This was a strange book. It was a gift that had been sitting on my shelf for a few years, and I finally decided to read it. It was both repelling and fascinating. It was also super timely!
Let’s just say that Ivana Lowell, in this book published in 2010, may have been one of the very first women to complain of and describe Harvey Weinstein’s sexually abusive behavior. That alone makes the book memorable, but wait, there’s more!
There is really no excuse for my fascination with royalty and the aristocracy, particularly the English aristocracy. Ivana Lowell is an aristocrat. She was born in New York 1966, to Caroline Blackwood, who was a writer and also the daughter of Maureen, the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava (as well as an heiress to the Guinesss fortune). Ivana’s father was less certain as her mother either didn’t care to know or, more likely, chose to mislead her daughter about who exactly her father was. Who does that? That lone fact creates an absolutely appalling image of a self-absorbed, alcoholic mother who preferred her own dramas to the demands of mothering. Ivana’s mother actually died (and had plenty of warning that she was dying) without telling her daughter who her father was.
As an interesting literary note, one of Blackwood’s husbands was the American poet Robert Lowell, who seems to have been a loving, if distracted and unreliable, stepfather. Ivana Lowell bears his name, but not his genes.
Ivana’s mother is a central character in this book, but this is no Mommy, Dearest. Caroline Blackwood suffered through her own tough yet pampered childhood with a terribly self-absorbed mother and a social millieau tht wasn’t exactly child-friendly. One wouldn’t have expected her to become mother of the year, but still! She was intelligent; she had resources. Sadly she seldom applied those gifts to parenting. There was an utterly self-absorbed, twisted side to her, but the main thing that stands out is that she took no ongoing responsibility for her children. That said, Ivana has a remarkable amount of affection for her mother. She is apparently quite amused by her and has fond recollections of the most outrageous acting out, even as she now seems to understand how inappropriate and cruel some of it was.
Now that I’ve established that I’m not judgmental……. Ivana seems more easily understood. Not only did she have some spectacularly appalling parenting, but she was sexually abused and also terribly burned as a child. (At least her mother seems to have been supportive in helping her daughter with her burns and scarring.) It’s no surprise Ivana became an alcoholic, given her family and her circumstances. Ivana didn’t exactly major in responsibility for much of her life. Yet this wonderful book shows someone trying to come to terms with what she has experienced and what she hopes to be. She acknowledges her scars and is resolved to move on. She sees her setbacks as understandable, but remains curiously optimistic and determined to be there for her own daughter. I ended up with a lot of respect for Ivana’s sense of humor, her humility, her painful honesty and her ultimate hopefulness that things could work out for her and her daughter.
This is an odd book, with lots of peculiar segues. It is certainly entertaining, but it has unsuspected depth. I’m glad I read it, and I keep thinking about it.