Henry and Clara: A Novel

by Thomas Mallon | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 039559071X Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 12/15/2016
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2 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, December 15, 2016
I got this slightly-battered ex-library hardcover from Better World Books, after hearing about the tragic story of Henry and Clara Rathbone in Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation. They were the young couple who sat next to President Lincoln on the last night of his life, and their own story was overshadowed by the assassination. And a tragic story it is, too...

The novel opens with a prologue from the viewpoint of fleeing assassin Booth, who - in addition to musing over his own deeds - gives a thought to the man he stabbed, and the woman with him: "Would her major recover, or had he died in her arms? Had John Wilkes Booth destroyed her evening or her life?"

This novel, based extensively on historical record, is told mostly from Clara's point of view once we're past the prologue, and describes how she and Henry grew up in the same household and then fell in love. (They were step-siblings, with no blood ties, but their relationship did raise some eyebrows at the time.) Much of the novel deals with the early parts of their lives, including their very different experiences during the war. And once Henry has returned home and the war is over, it seems that things are looking up - until that fateful night at the theater...

In this novel, Clara senses something a bit off about Henry's reactions to the horrific events - and to his own serious injury at Booth's hands; whether that's true or not, it adds a faint touch of suspense to the narrative, and when, near the end of the story, Henry reveals his darkest secret to Clara at a horrifying moment, it brings the story full circle. (The real-life events were horrific enough without that added touch.)

Henry apparently suffered considerable mental and emotional trauma while fighting in the Civil War, and being on hand at Lincoln's assassination would have been horrifying in itself. Not to mention the suggestions that he might have saved Lincoln if only he'd... done something different? It isn't clear whether that was even possible, but it does seem to have troubled him.

Whether those factors triggered his mental decline or whether he already had a mental illness and it was exacerbated by those events isn't clear, but he did become less and less rational, with growing suspicions about his wife.

As with many historical novels, I found myself interested in researching the truth behind the tale, but I also appreciated the author's take on events. For one thing, it does seem to adhere to history for the most part, with the personal thoughts and conversations featuring actual quotes and keeping in character for the time and place. Poor Clara had to cope with her husband's mental illness at a time when the best solutions for such things involved sending the patient to an asylum - as was done to Lincoln's widow; the scenes where she has to walk a fine line to keep from setting Henry off resonated with the experiences of abused spouses, as well as of the loved ones of the mentally ill.

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing at Tara Commons (see notes for details) in Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Saturday, December 17, 2016

Released 3 yrs ago (12/17/2016 UTC) at Tara Commons (see notes for details) in Nashua, New Hampshire USA

WILD RELEASE NOTES:

I left this book on a table inside the Craft Beer Cellar in Tara Commons on Spit Brook Rd. at around 7; hope the finder enjoys it!

*** Released as part of the 2016 What's In A Name release challenge. ***

Journal Entry 3 by wingAnonymousFinderwing at Bristol, Rhode Island USA on Monday, March 13, 2017
l found this book a little tedious and wish it spoke more of the actual history of the period and the turmultuous events of the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination. I didn't think Clara and Henry's long courtship believable for the time for which it was written.

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