The Secret Life of Mrs. London

The Secret Life of Mrs. London

2018 BEST NEW NOVEL nominee, Center for Fiction. Historical fiction Houdini-London love triangle www.goodreads.com San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own caree...

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Title:The Secret Life of Mrs. London
Author:Rebecca Rosenberg
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Secret Life of Mrs. London Reviews

  • Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede

    I instantly knew that I wanted to read The Secret Life of Mrs. London from the moment I read the blurb. I just love reading historical fiction about famous persons and I was intrigued by the prospect of reading a book about Jack London, a man that I didn't know much about. Also, the addition of Harry Houdini to the story made my eagerness to read this book even greater.

    I've actually been putting off writing this review, you know waiting for the right moment because I was so taken with the story

    I instantly knew that I wanted to read The Secret Life of Mrs. London from the moment I read the blurb. I just love reading historical fiction about famous persons and I was intrigued by the prospect of reading a book about Jack London, a man that I didn't know much about. Also, the addition of Harry Houdini to the story made my eagerness to read this book even greater.

    I've actually been putting off writing this review, you know waiting for the right moment because I was so taken with the story that I needed some breathing pause to be levelheaded to write a review that is just me rambling. To be honest, I'm not sure it helped, but anyway, here we go!

    The Secret Life of Mrs. London is about Jack London's wife Charmain London and in this story we get to follow Charmain story through a period in life when everything around her changes. Her marriage isn't the easiest and although Jack loves Charmain do one really get a feeling that she is there to take care of Jack businesses, from his writing to the dream house that he's building. Her own ambition, her own writing is something that she has to just dream about. The Harry Houdini sweeps into her life...

    As much as I liked Jack in this book can't I help, but frankly adore Harry Houdini. The attraction between him and Charmain is palpable. It helps that the writing is top-notch that the characters are so alive, so well-developed that I breathlessly turned every page with the desire to know what happens next, but at the same time didn't I want the story to end. Yes, I'm gushing, but seriously, this is one book I could easily read again and nowadays I don't have time to re-read books. Another character I came to like very much is Bess Houdini, she shows up in the book now and then, and just like her famous husband has Bess a strong and vibrant personality. I quite liked her interaction with Charmine.

  • Sheri

    A wonderful debut novel about Charmian London, the wife and muse of Jack London.

    Rebecca Rosenberg is superb at character development and description. You really get to know the main characters and find yourself loving and hating them at various points in the novel. I know nothing about Jack or Charmian London and their lives, and have never read any of their works, but I came away feeling like I really know them as people. This is a fictionalized accounting of Jack and Charmian’s life together o

    A wonderful debut novel about Charmian London, the wife and muse of Jack London.

    Rebecca Rosenberg is superb at character development and description. You really get to know the main characters and find yourself loving and hating them at various points in the novel. I know nothing about Jack or Charmian London and their lives, and have never read any of their works, but I came away feeling like I really know them as people. This is a fictionalized accounting of Jack and Charmian’s life together over a span of two years, but I couldn’t help but wonder at just how much is based in fact. (A quick internet search answered my questions.)

    Jack and Charmian are a study in opposites. In my opinion, Jack is hypocritical, self-centered, and the opposite of everything he says he stands for and represents himself to be– capitalistic rather than socialistic, dependent rather than independent, weak instead of strong. The Jack London he shows the world is built up and supported by his wife. His true authentic self is hidden behind a carefully constructed façade.

    Charmian is most definitely the woman behind the man, to the point that she deludes herself. She is devoted to Jack; she is his protector and has no idea who she is except as it relates to Jack. (paraphrase p. 191, p. 249) Charmian needs Jack, and wants him to need her. She strives to lift him up out of his doldrums, to be the one that rescues him from himself. She desperately tries to hold on to him somehow – with the promise of a baby, a son. I think she really is the woman Jack claims to want and need, but the disharmony between them is that Jack isn’t really honest with himself about whom and what he wants and needs.

    Charmian is smart enough to know that Jack uses her for his gain, yet she still plays her role. What is her gain? She hopes for fame and perhaps the fortune that might accompany it, but for now she enjoys the lifestyle that Jack provides. She may claim to enjoy living in a cottage but her heart swells at the thought that a man will go to great lengths for her. Now if only she could be what he needs her to be, love him the way he needs to be loved. Her devotion is misplaced; she is also not honest about what she wants and needs in a partner. She uses him in her own way; she is unfaithful yet anxious about disappointing him.

    Charmian is vain, believing that she is the true voice behind Jack London. “Once he gets wound this tight, he’ll be up all night writing, thinking it’s genius, but it will be drivel I’ll struggle to save. Sometimes a lost day spirals to weeks if I can’t set him right, and in the worst case, Jack falls into his “long sickness,” with me as his only life preserver.” (p. 62)

    In the end we see that Charmian is caught between two worlds, the old and the new. She desires to be a new liberated woman yet can’t quite give up the old ways. “What a perfect fraud I am. Living my life under the banner of liberated women, and now faced with the opportunity to prove it, I react like an innocent virgin.” (p. 295)

    Other random thoughts that I wanted to briefly mention --

    Chapter 23 is stark, vivid, and real. Concisely yet powerfully told.

    Favorite quote: “Danger is dancing with death without succumbing to her charms.” (p. 62)

    The Secret Life of Mrs. London would be a great read for book clubs and offers many topics for discussion: women's rights, the great war, the relationships between Jack & Charmian, Charmian & Aunt Netta, Bessie & Charmian, the Londons and their servants; Charmian’s praise of Jack's writing and his lack of hers, Charmian’s beatitudes.

    I really enjoyed this historical fiction novel and the look behind the scenes of a famous author. It was difficult to write a review that does it justice. It’s a great book to discuss with others.

    My thanks to both the author and the publisher for the advanced reader’s copy. My apologies for the late review.

  • Rebecca Rosenberg

    $1.99 April 1, only!

    2018 BEST NEW NOVEL Center for Fiction nomination

    On the surface, The Secret Life of Mrs. London is about the love triangle between the Houdinis and Londons, but many themes begged to be explored throughout.

    --Must you be faithful when marital needs are never met?

    --How do you live with the demands of a mercurial genius?

    --When are words of love not enough?

    --When is friendship stronger than passion?

    Charmian L

    $1.99 April 1, only!

    2018 BEST NEW NOVEL Center for Fiction nomination

    On the surface, The Secret Life of Mrs. London is about the love triangle between the Houdinis and Londons, but many themes begged to be explored throughout.

    --Must you be faithful when marital needs are never met?

    --How do you live with the demands of a mercurial genius?

    --When are words of love not enough?

    --When is friendship stronger than passion?

    Charmian London was a force of nature, a horsewoman, swimmer, pianist, painter, writer. And typist and editor of the most popular writer of their times. Remember, however that it was 1915. Women would not get the right to vote for another five years. These women were pushing to expand the boundaries of women's roles, while still trying to break out of the cast-iron mold of Victorian women. Charmian was known for her free-loving spirit, but having read her diaries, some of that was an act to keep the great Jack London interested. Many of Jack London's female characters were fashioned from Charmian. As he writes in "Martin Eden" :

    “Here was intellectual life, he thought, and here was beauty, warm and wonderful as he had never dreamed it could be. He forgot himself and stared at her with hungry eyes. Here was something to live for, to win to, to fight for—ay, and die for. The books were true. There were such women in the world. She was one of them. She lent wings to his imagination, and great, luminous canvases spread themselves before him whereon loomed vague, gigantic figures of love and romance, and of heroic deeds for woman’s sake—for a pale woman, a flower of gold. And through the swaying, palpitant vision, as through a fairy mirage, he stared at the real woman, sitting there and talking of literature and art. He listened as well, but he stared, unconscious of the fixity of his gaze or of the fact that all that was essentially masculine in his nature was shining in his eyes.”

    ― Jack London, Martin Eden

  • Elyse

    Update..... given I ‘AM’ still thinking about this novel ... I’m adding one more star...

    from 3 stars to 4. This book is growing on me!!!!

    This is a hard review for me to write ...because I wasn’t crazy about this book.

    I have only myself to blame. I didn’t read ‘one’ thing about this novel when Rebecca Rosenberg asked me if I would like to read it: “The Secret Life of Mrs. London”,

    in exchange for a review.

    I was happy to read Rebecca’s novel....California native, who lives in Sonoma...always ni

    Update..... given I ‘AM’ still thinking about this novel ... I’m adding one more star...

    from 3 stars to 4. This book is growing on me!!!!

    This is a hard review for me to write ...because I wasn’t crazy about this book.

    I have only myself to blame. I didn’t read ‘one’ thing about this novel when Rebecca Rosenberg asked me if I would like to read it: “The Secret Life of Mrs. London”,

    in exchange for a review.

    I was happy to read Rebecca’s novel....California native, who lives in Sonoma...always nice to get behind our locals - and first time authors.

    Plus, there is some hanky-panky weird history about Jack London in relationship to my husband, Paul. Without going into all the nitty-gritty details that have been passed down to us —- we are fairly certain Jack London was Paul’s great great biological grandfather. I’ve never been a huge Jack London fan myself beyond a couple of his books, but the ties with Paul’s Family kinda interested me.

    However -if I had just read the blurb on Goodreads as I did seconds ago - I would have read about Houdini being part of this story.

    I have zero interest in Houdini....and he’s a large presence throughout. So for those who are interested in anything Houdini- then by all means - choose this book - lots of Houdini to chew on.

    Hers’s a small example:

    Jack and Houdini are on stage together a few times in this novel. The audience loves them- cheers - and bows. This one time Houdini was holding a burning knife like a torch, and hurls it at Jack’s Head.

    “The knife twists through steamy air slowly, trailing fire and smoke on its path across stage. As the knife thrusts into the wood above Jack’s Head, flames singe his hair”.

    Mrs. London wanted to kill them both - and who could blame her?

    The first 75% of this novel is equally about Jack London as it is Mrs. London....yes there is a scandal between Mrs. London, ie, Charmain, or Charmie, or Chairman, or Mate, or Mate-Woman in that first 75%.... she types for Jack... supporting him complete a thousand words a day, has rendezvous moments on the beach in Hawaii,

    definitely withholds personal thoughts and feelings, and clearly wants to be a writer in her own right....but it’s really the last 25% of this book where Mrs London takes full stage as the leading character in book..... which takes place in New York Houdini is her supporting character.

    I don’t need to like characters to enjoy a book - but I need some redeeming qualities of inspiration ‘somewhere’. And that’s what this book didn’t have enough of for me. Nothing inspired me - moved me. I really didn’t care about the adults sex lives — I didn’t find it steamy or in the least bit shocking or interesting.

    I wouldn’t want to be friends with most the people in this book. Jack’s sister, Eliza,could cook great and seemed pretty nice.

    Jack London...who had kidney stones, rheumatism, smoked cigarettes and drank martinis like they were going out of style could be an narcissistic, disrespectful asshole. His all time finale asshole performance was when the MOST LIKABLE CHARACTER in this book: *Nakata*, a loyal saint of a servant finally wanted to quit. Jack was down right rude him - then said couldn’t quit because he was like family. If he was like family, how come he never shared a meal with him?

    Mrs. London and Jack - both had crazy sex lives - and ideas about soul relationships - They were both too nuts and eccentric for my taste.

    Houdin’s wife Bessie was a real character - she had an obsession with dolls ...

    I liked the dog: Possum!

    Back to my favorite:

    Nakata....who wanted to be a dentist... with graciousness and dignity... he served fresh brewed Kona coffee on the lanai in the mornings in Hawaii to Jack and Charmsin. He brought them pitchers of cocktails, kept them fed throughout the day with raw Bonita and papaya, or steaming malasades fried dough with haupia coconut milk custard, and delicious dinners.

    One last thing - which I did enjoy - a tidbit. At the start of each chapter was a quote-by Jack London from one of his books. And since my favorite book of his is “The Call of the Wild”.....

    This is the quote Rebecca Rosenberg chose ...which I like very much too.

    “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life,

    and Beyond which life, cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive”.

    From 1916 to 1917...Sonoma, Napa Valley, Beauty Ranch, Glenn Ellen, Hawaii,- Big Island, Oahu, New York, Manhattan, Greenwich Village, Sausalito, back to Napa Valley Area.

    Note....Mrs London did eventually get her book, “Our Hawaii” published by Macmillan.....selling 95 copies.

    Liked it - didn’t love it.... readable ... but not uplifting or inspiring or particularly interesting to me. However, for a first novel, it’s written well.

    Thank you Lake Union Publishing, Netgalley, and Rebecca Rosenberg

  • Marialyce

    4 "engaging" stars

    Charmain was the second wife of author Jack London. She was a believer in free love, socialism, a woman's right to vote, and her husband Jack. It is the turn of the century, a time when the Victorian Age was winding down. Social and sexual mores were changing. It was the time before the free reeling lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest and Hadley Hemmingway became the alt culture of their day. Although in reading this book, I could not help thinking that the London

    4 "engaging" stars

    Charmain was the second wife of author Jack London. She was a believer in free love, socialism, a woman's right to vote, and her husband Jack. It is the turn of the century, a time when the Victorian Age was winding down. Social and sexual mores were changing. It was the time before the free reeling lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest and Hadley Hemmingway became the alt culture of their day. Although in reading this book, I could not help thinking that the Londons would have fit right in with those other two couples.

    Charmain was also an author, of course not as well known as Jack, who seemed to, in this book while away his life drinking, sleeping around, and spending money he did not have. However, Charmain is completely enamored of him although she did have one indiscretion. It will soon be followed by another with a very popular magician.

    Charmin had taken Jack away from his first wife, having been a friend and neighbor to the Londons, and we later learn after she befriends Bessie Houdini, that she will have an affair with Harry. Bess Houdini is a pathetic person. She suffers from never going through puberty, having a period, nor developing breasts. She can't have a child so instead she herself is a child who has a collection of dolls that she babies and cares for. Harry Houdini seems to love Bessie but it was not a marriage that afforded any sexual relations possible between them.

    Charmain was everything to Jack. She was his typist, his editor, his agent and his mantra of writing a thousand words a day produced short stories, novels, and poems. Jack died young due to problems brought on by his lifestyle of smoking and drinking. There was even some talk that Jack committed suicide brought on by an overdose of heroin which he had because of the intense pain suffered with kidney stones.

    This was a sad love story. Charmain wanted nothing but for Jack to love only her but Jack was not a man who was able to do that. After Jack's death, Charmain had affairs not only with Houdini but many others as well. Charmain was quite discreet in her numerous encounters, never remarrying and died at the age of eighty three.

    Not knowing too much about Jack London other than that he wrote adventure books, I found this novel to be quite informative. It was an interesting look at an author, who was seen as one of the first world wide celebrities, and his wife. I think Ms Rosenberg did a fine job of ferreting out the relationship between Jack and Charmain and providing the reader with an informative look into their life together.

    Thank you to Rebecca Rosenberg, Lake Union Publishing, and NetGalley for providing an ARC of this intriguing novel.

  • Marialyce

    4 "engaging" stars

    Charmain is the second wife of author Jack London. She was a believer in free love, socialism, a woman's right to vote, and her husband Jack. It is the turn of the century, a time when the Victorian Age was winding down. Social and sexual mores were changing. It was the time before the free reeling lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest and Hadley Hemmingway became the alt culture of their day. Although in reading this book, I could not help thinking that the Londons

    4 "engaging" stars

    Charmain is the second wife of author Jack London. She was a believer in free love, socialism, a woman's right to vote, and her husband Jack. It is the turn of the century, a time when the Victorian Age was winding down. Social and sexual mores were changing. It was the time before the free reeling lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest and Hadley Hemmingway became the alt culture of their day. Although in reading this book, I could not help thinking that the Londons would have fit right in with those other two couples.

    Charmain was also an author, of course not as well known as Jack, who seemed to, in this book while away his life drinking, sleeping around, and spending money he did not have. However, Charmain is completely enamored of him although she did have one indiscretion. It will soon be followed by another with a very popular magician.

    Charmin had taken Jack away from his first wife, having been a friend and neighbor to the Londons, and we later learn after she befriends Bessie Houdini, that she will have an affair with Harry. Bess Houdini is a pathetic person. She suffers from never going through puberty, having a period, nor developing breasts. She can't have a child so instead she herself is a child who has a collection of dolls that she babies and cares for. Harry Houdini seems to love Bessie but it was not a marriage that afforded any sexual relations possible between them.

    Charmain was everything to Jack. She was his typist, his editor, his agent and his mantra of writing a thousand words a day produced short stories, novels, and poems. Jack died young due to problems brought on by his lifestyle of smoking and drinking. There was even some talk that Jack committed suicide brought on by an overdose of heroin which he had because of the intense pain suffered with kidney stones.

    This was a sad love story. Charmain wanted nothing but for Jack to love only her but Jack was not a man who was able to do that. After Jack's death, Charmain had affairs not only with Houdini but many others as well. Charmain was quite discreet in her numerous encounters, never remarrying and died at the age of eighty three.

    Not knowing too much about Jack London other than that he wrote adventure books, I found this novel to be quite informative. It was an interesting look at an author, who was seen as one of the first world wide celebrities, and his wife. I think Ms Rosenberg did a fine job of ferreting out the relationship between Jack and Charmain and providing the reader with an informative look into their life together.

    Thank you to Rebecca Rosenberg, Lake Union Publishing, and NetGalley for providing an ARC of this intriguing novel.

  • Suzanne Leopold

    Charmaine London is the wife of the Jack London, the famous writer of adventure stories. Charmaine has been essential to Jack’s success providing edits and motivating him to keep to a schedule. She has put her writing career on hold to help him succeed but has received little acknowledgment from the literary community or her husband. She struggles to balance her love for Jack and her own desire for achievement.

    One evening, the Londons see Harry Houdini perform onstage. Charmaine is pulled out o

    Charmaine London is the wife of the Jack London, the famous writer of adventure stories. Charmaine has been essential to Jack’s success providing edits and motivating him to keep to a schedule. She has put her writing career on hold to help him succeed but has received little acknowledgment from the literary community or her husband. She struggles to balance her love for Jack and her own desire for achievement.

    One evening, the Londons see Harry Houdini perform onstage. Charmaine is pulled out of the audience as a volunteer which was a typical ploy with attractive women. A bond forms while she is introduced to Bessie Houdini, and details about their complicated marriage are revealed. Harry Houdini showers her with affection and she starts to realize what's been missing from her own relationship.

    This is a historical look at the life of Jack London as seen through the eyes of his wife. We get to witness the highs and lows of his career and gather some understanding of their complicated marriage. This is well-researched debut novel by Rebecca Rosenberg.

  • Candi

    3.5 stars

    My previous experience with the prolific author Jack London was years ago during my school days when I was assigned

    I remember finding it an interesting book, but didn’t really think much about it afterwards. Then I re-read the book a few years ago when my son received the same English class assignment – and I loved it the second time through! Other than that, my knowledge of Jack London went no further; and naturally I knew nothing about his second wife, Charmian

    3.5 stars

    My previous experience with the prolific author Jack London was years ago during my school days when I was assigned

    I remember finding it an interesting book, but didn’t really think much about it afterwards. Then I re-read the book a few years ago when my son received the same English class assignment – and I loved it the second time through! Other than that, my knowledge of Jack London went no further; and naturally I knew nothing about his second wife, Charmian London. This book has certainly changed that around and I feel like I know this couple a bit more intimately now. The lives of creative geniuses always intrigue me. What sparks their imagination, how easy is it for them to write or produce a work of art, and what effect does celebrity have on their relationships? What would it be like to be married to such talent? Intellectually, Charmian seemed a good match for Jack. Yet, something was lacking in their marriage that drove her to seek intimacy elsewhere. It seems Jack too did not mind a detour or two away from his marriage vows. I found Charmian to be a very spirited and adventurous woman. She was a writer herself, but how do you make a name for yourself apart from such a famed personality? It seems it was a struggle for her and I could feel her frustration at her desire for independence in the literary world.

    In this book, the reader also has the opportunity to meet another couple much in the spotlight at the time – Mr. and Mrs. Houdini. I’ve read of Harry Houdini here and there, and of course his magic fascinates me. Bessie Houdini was an eccentric individual, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for her. Her relationship with Harry is more like that of father-child than husband-wife. The Londons and the Houdinis eventually come together and the two women form a friendship. Personally, I have to use the term ‘friendship’ loosely, however. My ideas of the bonds of friendship don’t tie in with these two. Loyalty goes a long way in my book, and without that, can it really be considered friendship no matter the unusual circumstances? In my small world, I take these bonds very seriously. In any case, it does make for some juicy reading if you are so inclined.

    Overall, I thought this was an interesting book and a solid debut novel grounded in some great historical research. I did enjoy the various settings – from the London’s California ranch, to tropical Hawaii, and to New York City and Greenwich Village. I liked learning about the Londons, although I can’t say that I necessarily came out of this actually liking them as individuals.

    I would like to thank Rebecca Rosenberg, Lake Union Publishing, and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  • Miranda Reads

    3.5 stars

    And with that we are introduced to Jack London's wife, Charmian, an amateur boxer, aspiring writer, and

    .

    Charmian is in the unique situation of

    during a time when women were supposed to be

    She's written books but no one woul

    3.5 stars

    And with that we are introduced to Jack London's wife, Charmian, an amateur boxer, aspiring writer, and

    .

    Charmian is in the unique situation of

    during a time when women were supposed to be

    She's written books but no one would publish them. She has ambitions but no one takes her seriously.

    but her husband is not up to it (though, I do not blame the man on that account. I could barely turn the page without her hounding him. The poor guy must have been

    by her unrelenting libido).

    What bothered me most about this book is how

    In one sentence, she swears that Jack is the

    and in the next she's

    behind his back...and to top it all, she condemns her aunt for the same actions.

    And when she befriends the Houdinis - yes, she befriends Houdini's wife - she spends only a sentence or two over the guilt. I really thought she would've been torn over the betrayal of her friend's trust but that is not much expounded upon in the book.

    While I was overly interested in

    , I did have fun reading about what life was like back then. The author did a great job of setting the scene. A few times I would look up familiar brands only to discover they really were invented back then (i.e. listerine as mouthwash was used over a hundred years ago). Additionally, Jack London had a

    No wonder why

    back then.

    That being said, there were a few moments that threw me for a loop. For example

    Overall, this was in interesting read! The author really transported the audience into the early 1900s and fleshed out the main characters really well. And I enjoyed all of the literary references to Jack London's works. While this is not something I'd normally read, I am definitely glad to have had the chance to read this.

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