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A novel of Jackie Kennedy and Maria Callas

16th September 2020

The Second Marriage by Gill Paul, a novel of Jackie Kennedy and Maria Callas, set in the USA and Europe.

(Titled Jackie and Maria for the U.S. edition)

A novel of Jackie Kennedy and Maria Callas

I have always been fascinated by these two iconic women and the circles in which they moved, so it has been wonderful to read a novel that fleshes out the bones of their lives, both fictional and factual. The author cleverly dovetails their two stories as they move from the 1950s, through the 1960s and into the 1970s. The balance of the story, as it moves between their lives, works well and other pivotal people feed into the narrative as it builds, placing Aristotle Onassis, shipping magnate extraordinaire, in his central role between the two women.

Onassis and Maria Callas had a fiery relationship over a decade and at some level it worked well for them. But he was never faithful to her, always looking for the next conquest. She was portrayed in the press as a capricious diva but the author really picks up on the misogyny around her when she was trying to be the best she could be.

Jackie Bouvier married Jack Kennedy and of course we are familiar with their story. As President of the United States and First Lady the image that sticks is of Jack’s assassination in the back of an open-top Cadillac, leaving Jackie Kennedy cradling the remains of her husband’s head and brains, as the car sped to the nearest hospital. Trauma in the Kennedy family almost became the norm (often dubbed the Kennedy Curse) and a little later Senator Bobby Kennedy, Jack’s brother, was also killed.  Further down the line there were more untimely deaths in the clan, which Jackie, fortunately, never had to witness.

These events left her vulnerable, suffering no doubt from PTSD, and Onassis already had his eye on this stylish, trophy companion and erstwhile First Lady. Back in Paris he was still seeing Callas who was desperate for a ring on her finger and marriage. He never acquiesced to her desire of marriage, whether that was his ultimate control or whether he couldn’t acknowledge his neediness of her is unclear. He certainly was a controlling and ruthless predator, yet his charm won over so many. Once an enemy, however, always an enemy.

What the author does so well is delve into these lives of the rich and famous and conjure up the cloying, incestuous nature of the liaisons. Jackie’s sister Lee was thought to have had an affair with Jack and she certainly had a relationship with Onassis before Jackie. Onassis’s ex wife Tina went on to marry his arch nemesis Niarchos. There seems to have been so much revenge and punitive behaviour around that it made my hair stand on end. Money was no object but people? They could almost be traded and bought off.

I found it to be a riveting novel, with a very easy to read style. Recommended if you have interest in the era and like to ‘people watch’.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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