Clairmont by Lesley McDowell – Book Review

Clairmont by Lesley McDowell – Book Review

Clairmont by Lesley McDowell


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1816. A massive volcanic eruption has caused the worst storms that Europe has seen in decades, yet Percy and Mary Shelley have chosen to visit the infamous Lord Byron at his villa on Lake Geneva. It wasn’t their idea: Mary’s eighteen year old step-sister, Claire Clairmont, insisted.

But the reason for Claire’s visit is more pressing than a summer escape with the most famous writers in the world. She’s pregnant with Byron’s child – a child Byron doesn’t want, and scarcely believes is his own.

Claire has the world in her grasp. This trip should have given her everything she ever dreamed of. But within days, her life will be in ruins.

History has all but forgotten her story – but she will not be silenced.

Review by Stacey

Clairmont chronicles the life of Claire Clairmont, step-sister of Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein. The book opens in 1849 and then rewinds to 1816, when Claire, aged 18, Mary, Percy (Shelley’s husband), and Lord Byron were holidaying at Lake Geneva.

Claire, who is romantically involved with Byron, is carrying his child. To share her situation with Byron, she seeks the support of her step-sister and brother-in-law. However, Byron doesn’t take the news well.

The story follows Claire’s life over a period of forty years as she becomes a governess in Russia and then relocates to Paris.

Clairmont was a mixed experience for me. Although I usually enjoy fast-paced stories, this one left me disoriented with its abrupt beginning. I didn’t know who was who. The initial chapters were challenging to comprehend. I didn’t understand who the extra people who suddenly appeared were, and what had occurred as the book begins in an argument (both the prologue and chapter one). The first few chapters I re-read numerous times before moving on and trying to get to grips with the plot.

Claire Clairmont emerged as a strong-willed young woman who stood firm knew her mind, and defied social norms. Her character had a significant impact, and I found myself drawn to her. I was surprised at the relationship she and Mary had, one that seemed quite volatile.

Overall, I found the book engaging, with its gothic style and vivid descriptions. It was intriguing to read more about the woman who has long been overshadowed and left on the side line, well not anymore!

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Lesley McDowell

Lesley McDowell

Lesley McDowell is an author and critic living in Scotland. She earned a PhD for work on James Joyce and feminist theory before turning to literary journalism. Her first novel “The Picnic” was published in 2007 and she is the recipient of a Scottish Arts Council award for a second novel, based on the life of a childhood friend of Mary Shelley. She reviews regularly for the Herald, the Scotsman and the Independent on Sunday.

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