Melanie Benjamin picks such interesting subjects for her novels, introducing us to historical figures who, despite their significance, we may not know much about: first Alice Liddell, the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland, then Lavinia Warren or ‘Mrs Tom Thumb’, and now Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh.
We first meet Anne Morrow, daughter of the US ambassador to Mexico, in 1927 at a reception attended by Charles Lindbergh who has recently completed his first solo flight across the Atlantic. Everyone expects Lindbergh to be drawn to Anne’s beautiful older sister, Elizabeth, but instead it is the shy, quiet Anne who catches his eye and when he takes her up in his plane for a private flight, she finds that she shares his love of flying. Soon Lindbergh proposes and Anne accepts, but she quickly discovers that being married to one of the most famous men in America is not going to be easy.
Before reading this book I had heard of the Lindberghs but knew almost nothing about them so, for me, The Aviator’s Wife was very educational as well as being an enjoyable story. I’ve never given much thought as to what being an aviator actually involved and it was interesting to see how the Lindberghs use their roles as aviators to perform a range of useful and varied tasks including charting new routes and mapping flight paths for passenger planes, flying over places of interest to take aerial photographs, and delivering aid to disaster zones. Flying in those early aircraft must have been an amazing experience – the description of Anne’s first flight with Lindbergh is wonderfully written and sounds both terrifying and exhilarating.
This book gives us some fascinating insights into what it is like to be a celebrity. The Lindberghs have very little privacy and everything they do attracts attention from the world’s media. They are followed by reporters and photographers everywhere they go, though as quiet, reserved people neither Charles nor Anne seem very comfortable with being constantly in the spotlight. Charles has already learned to deal with it in his own way, but Anne often finds it difficult. Their fame eventually leads to tragedy – I won’t go into details here (if you’re familiar with the Lindberghs’ lives you will know what this tragedy was and if not I won’t spoil the story for you) but this part of the book was heartbreaking and made even worse by the fact that the way Charles chose to deal with the disaster was completely inadequate.
The relationship between Anne and Charles becomes more and more tense and strained as the years go by, but even as Charles grows increasingly cold and distant, Anne tries to stay loyal to her husband and is supportive when he expresses his controversial views on Hitler and the Nazis, despite the fact that she’s not convinced that he’s right. Charles is portrayed as a complex person with some good qualities but also a lot of bad ones. He tries to control every aspect of Anne’s and their children’s lives and at first it’s frustrating to see how Anne allows him to do this, but eventually she begins to move out of his shadow and finds some independence. As well as being her husband’s co-pilot, navigator and radio operator, Anne becomes an accomplished pilot in her own right and is also the first American woman to obtain a glider pilot’s licence. She later starts to build a successful career of her own as an author, publishing books including the best-selling Gift from the Sea.
I’ve enjoyed all three of Melanie Benjamin’s books but I think this one is her best so far. I was left wanting to learn more about Anne Morrow Lindbergh and feeling that she really deserves to be known as more than just ‘the aviator’s wife’!
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley