Literature Reviews

Book Review: ‘The Only Woman In the Room’ – Marie Benedict

There is something to be said for the convention of the curtain of the theatre. Untold stories are held at anticipatory bay; moving developments in character are delicately placated within each fold and ripple of the fabric. Engagement is quite literally revealed at the slightest touch and tug- all we need do is simply extend a hand. Such is the art of Marie Benedict’s new novel The Only Woman In the Room, which depicts the trials and tribulations of the Jewish Austrian actress Hedwig Keisler (better known in Hollywood as Hedy Lamarr) in a perilous precursory to Hitler’s rise to power and the forthcoming assault on humanism in Europe. In keeping true to her subject’s profession, Benedict is no stranger to the art of the curtain, as her keen sense of the mechanism transpires lavishly in her portrayal of a refugee’s quest. Tracing her early years, the author makes deft emotional appeal to the craftsmanship behind the actress, the taunting horrors that she witnessed, and the sordid traumas inflicted on the reinvention of character.

However fictionalized the novel may be, Benedict’s unveiling of the inventive quirks of a young starlet stand stalwart against the suspension of disbelief that most historical fiction would thrive in. Each chapter, which is dated and location-stamped, reads off as an excerpt in letter format, making for an overall engaging novel that invokes a secretive correspondence that is as historically accessible as it is current. Where the novel lacks in imaginative prose in regards to Lamarr’s upbringing in scientific technology and brushes too quickly past her exposure in fascist engineering, it makes up for in gushes pertaining to social progression. True authorship would require taking pen to the page against indignities such as the Third Reich and unchecked nationalistic efforts; the art of The Only Woman In the Room is where the atrocities are paralleled- and often closely linked to- the rampant sexism and embossed racism of 1940s Hollywood culture. In the face of an era that is paradoxically infatuated with dabbling in fascistic affronts, yet steadfast in its social accountability measures, The Only Woman In the Room is a gripping bridge between the past and the present, peeling back the curtain on one of history’s unsung heroes, promulgated by atrocities not lost on a present and future generation. (Katt Coppola, Editor In Chief)

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