Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: October 13, 2015
Type: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I was fortunate enough to receive and advance e-galley of Lynn Cullen’s latest historical fiction work, Twain’s End, courtesy of NetGalley and Gallery Books. In Twain’s End, Cullen examines the relationship between the famous American novelist Mark Twain and his private secretary Isabel Lyon. Through the course of the book, the reader is introduced to the young secretary, who first meets the infamous Mark Twain when she is a governess for another family and accompanies the husband to a card night at Twain’s house. After years of not seeing one another, Isabel is recommended to be the ill Mrs. Clemens’s secretary which ultimately results in her becoming Samuel “Mark’s” secretary. Over the course of seven years, Isabel develops a relationship with not only Mar, at first it is one of mutual respect with not so veiled flirtation, and then following the passing of Mrs. Clemens, that blossoms into romance.
With continued back and forth between the two as to whether or not they will ever solidify their relationship and stop being the “talk of the town”, Isabel finds herself being drawn into a web of secrets with his daughter Clara, which caused me the reader to view as contributing to her downfall with the writer. Following the revelation of Clara’s secret relationship and the fact that Isabel was complicit in her affair, Mark begins to push Isabel away. Feeling that the only way for her to continue to protect the man that she loves and to allow him to save face, Isabel agrees to marry Mark’s business manager, Ralph Ashcroft. Initially Mark gives the couple his blessing, but within a month of the wedding he unleashed a 429 page rant against Isabel, saying that she was “a liar, a forger, a thief,…” to name a few. Clara, Twain’s daughter, then goes on to continue the slander against Isabel in the papers, completely eradicating all the hard work Isabel had done for the family during her seven years of service to them.
Lynn Cullen attempts to answer the question, which has plagued Twain scholars for years, “What did Isabel do to bring about this treatment? Was everything that Twain said about her in fact true, or was it the vindictive words of a man who had had his heart broken?” Lynn Cullen has done a wonderful job of researching this dramatic and shocking story, and I believe that she has managed to craft a highly plausible explanation of the events. Twain’s End was a highly engaging read that made me want to skip meals and sleep in order to continue reading to learn more of the story. Regardless to one’s prior knowledge of the writer, this is a wonderful novel as it introduces a topic that I don’t believe is as well known.