Becoming Lola

Written by Harriet Steel
Review by Sarah Newman

During her lifetime, Lola Montez was, after Queen Victoria, the most famous woman in the Western world. Born Eliza Gilbert in 1821, from youth she was a difficult individual. Brought up at arm’s length, the smattering of love that was directed towards her may have been the trigger for her constant desire for attention. She faced a life of misery when her cold mother decided on an arranged marriage. She fled and through dalliances with wealthy men became notorious in London society. When it turned against her, she used her looks and the craze for Spanish dancing to re-invent herself as Lola, the widow of a Spanish hero killed in the Civil War. She set out to conquer Europe. Then the King of Bavaria fell for her charms and the stage was set for a scandal that would change the course of history.

Throughout Becoming Lola I kept having to remind myself that the story was based on historical fact. It is a fascinating journey following a woman’s single-minded determination to get the very best for herself, at all costs. She fit so much in from such a young age and was extremely self-assured for a woman of that time.

The text was very accessible and mostly well-presented. I was distracted by the bottom line of text, which was often different to the line on the facing page, and by the large paragraph breaks. The jacket typography looked somewhat amateur, which was a shame as it could deter readers from an otherwise enjoyable story. A re-typeset and a more striking cover would make a great difference. Lola’s character might not be to every reader’s taste, but nevertheless they will be drawn into her orbit, and I think she would have loved that.