"When Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?
Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.
Huguette was the daughter of self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark, nearly as rich as Rockefeller in his day, a controversial senator, railroad builder, and founder of Las Vegas. She grew up in the largest house in New York City, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for a family of four. She owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls. But wanting more than treasures, she devoted her wealth to buying gifts for friends and strangers alike, to quietly pursuing her own work as an artist, and to guarding the privacy she valued above all else.
The Clark family story spans nearly all of American history in three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to mining camps in the Montana gold rush, from backdoor politics in Washington to a distress call from an elegant Fifth Avenue apartment. The same Huguette who was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11 held a ticket nine decades earlier for a first-class stateroom on the second voyage of the Titanic.
Empty Mansions reveals a complex portrait of the mysterious Huguette and her intimate circle. We meet her extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her French boyfriend, her nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives fighting to inherit Huguette’s copper fortune. Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, Empty Mansions is an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.
The No. 1 New York Times bestseller. Best non-fiction books of the year at Goodreads, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble. One of the New York Times critic Janet Maslin's 10 favorite books of 2013."
I have to confess, I struggled soooo badly with this book. It just didn't do it for me and at the point of writing this post (Saturday evening 8:40pm), I've actually only read 10% of the book #epicfail
I don't know if it is because it's based on real-life (it is, after all, someone's life story - and I'm not really a big fan of 'real-life' stories) or the fact that there is SO much history to plough through, but I just couldn't read more than a few pages at a time.
I'm disappointed because the book has almost four stars on Goodreads, which means I'm among a minority of readers who don't like it; I'd never heard of Huguette Clark before starting to read Empty Mansions and being overwhelmed with info probably wasn't the best way to get to know this 'famous recluse'. Apparently if I'd got further into the book, I would have learnt all about how strange Huguette's life really was but as it is, I didn't and I'm still pretty clueless as to who she is and why her homes sat empty for 60 years, and even what happened to her millions. (anyone wanna give me the brief skinny on her?)
If you've read this book before, or have been reading along as part of this month's Blogger2Blogger Book Club, then head over to Lit Lovers and pick a few questions to answer in your blog post (don't forget to link up with Kelly & Holly on Tuesday) and be honest, whether you loved or hated it - I wanna know if I'm the only one who struggled with this book!
MASSIVE props have to go to our host, Kelly, because without her, and her super generous act of mailing me her unused Kindle (yes, from west coast America to middle England), I wouldn't have been able to read a word of this book - so, because I feel so bad for not finishing this book, I promise here and now to keep reading, for Kelly's sake! #lovethatlady