Review: The Importance of Being Kennedy; Laurie Graham

“Jack Kennedy for president! They’ll fly a man to the moon, more likely…” (4 stars) 

Source- personal copy

Published by Harper Collins, 2008

I read the paperback version which is 326 pages.

I’ve loved every single Laurie Graham book I’ve picked up so far- from her utterly brilliant The Future Homemakers of America to the hilariously funny satireGone with the Windsor’s. There’s something about her subtle, tongue in cheek humour that guarantees an absorbing read is ahead and I love the meticulous research that clearly goes into all of her books and all of the historical and social details that are cleverly encompassed.

Needless to say, the subject matter in The Importance of Being Kennedy doesn’t really need spelling out too much. In this cracker of a novel Graham takes America’s most famous family, already used to being put under the microscope and of countless fascination to millions of people- and puts her own spin on their lives, chronicling the story of the Kennedy matriarch and patriarch from 1917 to 1948 and their growing brood of children through the eyes of their fictitious nanny, Nora.  From Joe Kennedy Snr’s wandering eye, to the rather cold mothering style of Rose, Graham explores the famous dynasty and delves into the hidden lives of the Kennedy family and certainly no stone is left unturned through Nora’s musings.

This was such a compelling book. Other than JFK, I must confess that I didn’t know too much about the Kennedy family and what I did know, I picked up from American tabloids *National Enquirer. Cough.* This book though, offers a great insight into the complex family relationships, particularly the ‘forgotten’ siblings who are all given a voice by Graham. Admittedly, some are written to be more sympathetic than others: my heart broke for Rose Marie, abandoned by her ambitious parents and deemed to be ‘slow’ and I loved Kathleen’s spirit and her longing to make some sort of life for herself away from her family’s legacy. There wasn’t as much written about ‘Jack’ (JFK) as I had anticipated and this story ended just as he had reached the position of Senator which surprised me and left me wanting more, particularly in knowing what comes later. I suspect that Graham could easily write another book about the Kennedy’s commencing at exactly this point if she wished, though. Maybe she’s already working on it, who knows?

The book is effortlessly paced- moving seamlessly through the decades through political upheaval and the turmoil of war. I found the historical aspects just fascinating and I learned a lot about the Kennedy family by osmosis whilst reading it! Their influence in society was gradual then, and not as far-reaching as it appears to be today, so it was informative to read about their somewhat humbler beginnings and the degree of ambition that Joe Snr and his wife had and their desperate longings to climb the ladder of the social stratosphere and mingle with politicians and Royalty. They are portrayed to be manipulative and as people who would seemingly do anything to secure a strong future for the Kennedy name.

Though not my favourite Graham book (that honour goes to The Future Homemakers…), I quickly devoured this book and became completely absorbed in the lives of the Kennedy family and was surprised by how much its poignant ending affected me. Though an enjoyable blend of fact and fiction, I did question exactly how much of this engrossing read was based on fact; for anyone looking for a well-written piece of social satire however, this is a story you should definitely check out.

Some other Laurie Graham books I have enjoyed and can recommend:

The Future Homemakers of America
Mr Starlight
At Sea
Gone with the Windsor’s
The Unfortunates

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