Tenderness

Written by Alison MacLeod
Review by Mandy Jenkinson

D.H. Lawrence, Jackie Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover might seem unlikely bedfellows, but in this wonderfully compelling novel, their stories are interwoven to great and sometimes surprising effect. Tenderness was the original title of Lawrence’s inflammatory novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and it is that book which is the backdrop to and inspiration for this multi-layered novel. There is enough material here for a number of books, but MacLeod has expertly drawn all the threads together into one very satisfying tale.

‘The Exile’ opens the novel at the end of Lawrence’s life and explores his life, ambition and writings amongst his friends and family, many of whom became models for the novel—often to their consternation. This part offers the reader real insight into Lawrence’s sometime difficult character and his relationships with others, including his wife, Frieda. The second narrative thread— ‘The Subversive’—follows Jackie Kennedy in the run-up to the 1960 presidential election, won of course by her husband JFK. Concerned for the fate of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the U.S. she attends the American trial, necessarily incognito, but is spotted by a fictional FBI agent and photographed, with this possibly incendiary photograph becoming ammunition in J. Edgar Hoover’s machinations to take down her husband, a sinister and shameful episode in U.S. history.

The third part of the book covers the infamous British trial in 1960 and brings back many of the people who knew Lawrence earlier in life, including some whom he offended. This fusion of fiction and non-fiction is gripping and convincing, and the result is a seriously ambitious novel that succeeds brilliantly. How much is true, how much fiction? Readers will have to do their own research, but this creative and original work is a fabulous piece of writing, which I thoroughly enjoyed.