The Hollywood Daughter- Kate Alcott
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker and A Touch of Stardust, comes a Hollywood coming-of-age novel, in which Ingrid Bergman's affair with Roberto Rossellini forces her biggest fan to reconsider everything she was raised to believe.
In 1950, Ingrid Bergman--already a major star after movies like Casablanca and Joan of Arc--has a baby out of wedlock with her Italian lover, film director Roberto Rossellini. Previously held up as an icon of purity, Bergman's fall shocked her legions of American fans.
Growing up in Hollywood, Jessica Malloy watches as her PR executive father helps make Ingrid a star at Selznick Studio. Over years of fleeting interactions with the actress, Jesse comes to idolize Ingrid, who she considered not only the epitome of elegance and integrity, but also the picture-perfect mother, an area where her own difficult mom falls short.
In a heated era of McCarthyism and extreme censorship, Ingrid's affair sets off an international scandal that robs seventeen-year-old Jesse of her childhood hero. When the stress placed on Jesse's father begins to reveal hidden truths about the Malloy family, Jesse's eyes are opened to the complex realities of life--and love.
Beautifully written and deeply moving, The Hollywood Daughter is an intimate novel of self-discovery that evokes a Hollywood sparkling with glamour and vivid drama.
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My Review - 4 Stars
My mom and aunt love old movies so I grew up watching anything starring Audrey Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Bing Crosby, and of course, Ingrid Bergman. For this reason alone, I wanted to read The Hollywood Daughter and see what I could learn Bergman and her costars from this different perspective.
I grew up knowing about post-scandal Bergman but Jessica Malloy grew up seeing her as a role model. Something or someone to aspire to. She loved Ingrid's films but she also got glimpses of Ingrid in person, whether at school pickup (Ingrid's daughter went to Jessica's school) or at the studio when she accompanied her dad. Those brief interactions with Ingrid mean everything to Jesse. Ingrid represents a form of escape, an escape from stressful transitions at school and the tensions between her parents.
We first meet Jesse in 1959. She's living in New York and she hasn't been back to LA since her high school graduation. She doesn't even like to think about those days but an anonymous invitation to the Academy Awards brings the past into her present. The story alternates between flashbacks to LA in 1942 and Jesse's present.
The flashbacks slowly weave us toward the painful moment which drove Jesse away and it kept me guessing. We experience the glamour of Hollywood through Jesse's naive, innocent eyes, as her PR father perfectly times the release of Casablanca and launches Ingrid's career. We get to see Jesse go to the Academy Awards in 1946, the year Ingrid and Bing Crosby were nominated for Bells of St. Mary's.
"Mother didn't just fear bad things would happen, she was sure they would. It was part of her faith. Sin was everywhere. That's what the confessional was for, wasn't it?" p. 32
We watch her transfer to St. Ann's Catholic School, a move orchestrated by her mother's strident faith and against Jesse's wishes. Her parents disagree about how their faith should be practiced, with her mother becoming ever more devoted and legalistic and her father eventually no longer attending due to the bishop's involvement with the Legion of Decency. This tension permeates the house and Jesse is caught between them. One of the more interesting backdrops is the rise of the Red Scare and how the fear of communism needlessly decimated peoples' lives. This plays out in a very personal way for the Malloy family and I was equal parts gripped and infuriated on their behalf. I also couldn't help but reflect on what this means for our time.
When we first meet Jesse, her life hasn't turned out the way she wanted. The dream of living in New York is not so much a dream and her career has yet to take off. She also hasn't dealt with the events that led her to leave LA. The Academy Award invitation brings her back: to her best friend Kathleen, to St. Ann's which is closing, to her past.
Jesse has to face her idealization of Ingrid Bergman, too. What did Bergman represent to her and how did that change when Bergman left her husband for Roberto Rossellini? Why did it represent the end of so much for Jesse? As we get the answers to these questions, Jesse begins to see what she wants from life and from her relationships. The character growth is authentic and well paced.
I really appreciated the way Alcott addressed hero worship and the ramifications in Jesse's life. I also appreciated the way religion was treated throughout: it's a balm, it's a source of strength, it's a weapon, it's a crutch, depending on the character and place. But my favorite part was the negative impact of the Red Scare and how this story personalized it. We would do well to pay attention.
Disclosure: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.