Selected as a “terrific read of the year” by “O, Oprah Magazine,” “The Bolter” tells the story of Idina Sackville, a woman who went through five husbands in her lifetime, not settling on any of them yet not wanting to be alone.
The scandal she brought upon herself and her family name still affects her grandchildren and great-grandchildren today, enough to warrant this narrative from the purely unbiased point of view of her great-granddaughter Frances Osbourne, who doesn’t protect or judge Idina but merely tries to explain her.
Speaking to women of all ages, Idina’s life at first glance seems as if it can be taken from a feminist perspective as she separated from and divorced all of her husbands in the mid 1900s because she did not want to be held down by them and be under their control. However, this feminist perspective is not the case.
Idina was searching for someone who would always be there for her; someone she could always count on for love and affection. Her first husband, Euan Wallace, appeared as if he would do this because they were deeply in love and absolutely crazy about each other. But when Idina becomes sick and is bedridden during Euan’s few weeks of military leave, things do not go well.
Euan strays from Idina throughout his leave, and although Idina recovers, she develops a wandering nature herself to combat the absence of her husband’s love and fidelity. The couple divorces and Idina has to part ways with not only Euan but also her two toddler sons until they are grown. She quickly marries again soon after her divorce from Euan.
With her second husband (and each husband after him), Idina moves to Kenya and builds a farmhouse in hopes of also building a lasting relationship with her current husband. Each marriage lasts approximately three or four years, and after each divorce Idina returns to England to see her third child, Dinan.
However, she eventually ends up back in Kenya, building a new farm with a new man.
As if this was not enough scandal to keep her busy, Idina also has wild parties with her friends and their husbands, at which they play games and swap spouses for the night, among other activities.
Her wandering nature is now a part of her character, as she cannot expect any husband to be true to her. Her solution is to be untrue to her husbands.
Finally, after each of her ex-husbands is either dead or forgotten, Idina arranges to meet her sons, who she has not seen since they were two and three years of age. Here at last she finds that love she was looking for, a love that would never leave her—the love of her children. Unfortunately, this is not meant to last, as World War II takes both of her sons from her.
Broken, alone and ill, Idina dies shortly thereafter, leaving only her final Kenyan ranch and her legacy behind her.
For a fleeting moment, Idina can be thought of as a strong woman who knew what she wanted and did what she could to get it, although she never achieved her goal. On the other hand, the Idina painted by Osbourne is one who ran from the things she couldn’t control and feared most, instead of facing them with a tough heart and courage.
She ended up alone because she pushed everyone away from her through her actions and incessant appalling behavior. One can only feel sorrow and sympathy for this life plagued by grief and angst.
Although Osbourne’s writing is at first hard to understand, with long sentences and expressions not often heard in American English (Osbourne is British), one soon overcomes this and is able to enjoy her straightforward and unbiased writing style.
As if to cater to her American audience, Osbourne sometimes employs overused phrases such as ‘dressed to the nines’ in her writing, and even though this detracts from her overall depiction, readers soon forget the clichés and focus on what she is really writing about—her great-grandmother, Lady Idina Sackville, the Bolter.