2020 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · 2020 Reviews · challenges · historical fiction

POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020: The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

Today I am marking off my thirty third #33rd checkpoint category for the POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020 with:


A biopic telling the incredible true story of the glamour icon and scientist whose ground-breaking invention revolutionised modern communication.

The New York Times and USA Today Bestseller

Hedy Lamarr possessed a stunning beauty. She also possessed a stunning mind. Could the world handle both?

Her beauty almost certainly saved her from the rising Nazi party and led to marriage with an Austrian arms dealer. Underestimated in everything else, she overheard the Third Reich’s plans while at her husband’s side, understanding more than anyone would guess. She devised a plan to flee in disguise from their castle, and the whirlwind escape landed her in Hollywood. She became Hedy Lamarr, screen star.

But she kept a secret more shocking than her heritage or her marriage: she was a scientist. And she knew a few secrets about the enemy. She had an idea that might help the country fight the Nazis…if anyone would listen to her.

A powerful novel based on the incredible true story of the glamour icon and scientist whose groundbreaking invention revolutionised modern communication, THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM is a masterpiece.

Review:

A woman of strong beauty and mind is reincarnated in Marie Benedict’s historical fiction come biography, The Only Woman in the Room. Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, who was known as the notorious screen siren Hedy Lamarr, is creatively pieced together by historical fiction specialist Marie Benedict, who reveals the personal history of this this actress and inventor’s colourful life.  It is a remarkable tale of a survivor, a trailblazer and a true Hollywood beauty.

From her humble beginnings as an emerging star of the stage, Hedy Lamarr catches the eye of an Austrian businessman, who marries her at just the age of nineteen. It is this connection through her marriage that sees Hedy rub shoulders with key political and military figures. She also comes into contact with the rising Nazi party. Hedy finds herself at the centre of many meetings involving the Nazi party and other key figures at the time. Listening in on these meeting as an innocent bystander gives Hedy the chance to develop a secret interest in her husband’s inventions in the field of munitions. Locking these secrets plans in her mind, Hedy makes a bold escape from the clutches of her abusive and controlling husband. When Hedy escapes to Paris, London and eventually Hollywood, she finds success as a sought after screen star. Hedy carefully cultivates an American persona, which helps her gain plenty of work in the film industry. But behind this glossy veneer is a woman of Jewish heritage and a former wife of a Nazi sympathiser. Driven by a strong desire to thwart the Nazi’s dangerous plans, Hedy moonlights as an inventor and a Hollywood star. Teaming up with a musician and composer, Hedy presents a powerful invention to the American authorities, but they refuse to take on her ideas, due to her gender. But Hedy never gives up on her mission to revolutionise communication systems in the US, while simultaneously entertaining audiences with her appealing movies. The Only Woman in the Room offers the reader an opportunity to walk in the shoes of this Hollywood starlet and pioneering scientist.

Marie Benedict has released a number of fictional biographies based on different women that the history books have largely overlooked. The Only Woman in the Room represents my first experience of the author’s work, but based on my enjoyment of this story in audio format, I have already sought out my next Marie Benedict novel. I am always quite taken with women that have been concealed from public attention, or brushed aside for various reasons from the past and Hedy Lamarr’s story, specifically her scientific efforts, is a clear example of a neglected female history.

Marie Benedict takes a chronological stance to outlining the life and times of Hedy Lamarr. We follow Hedy’s early days and we gain an essential insight into her family life, her stage career and eventually we cross paths with Hedy during a tumultuous time in her life with her marriage to Fritz Mandl. These sequences of the book were quite damaging and I felt the weight of Hedy’s predicament as she toiled through her time with Fritz. Eventually bold and brave Hedy escapes from Fritz and she forges a new life for herself in Hollywood. I really enjoyed the Hollywood sequences, as I am a fan of the glitz and glamour of this time period. Benedict brings to life this section well, with plenty of name drops in regards to the movie industry. I particularly enjoyed the references to key actors that Hedy rubbed shoulders with at this point in time. The Hollywood sequences felt authentic and realistic, portraying a rather enviable time in the past. Towards the latter stages of The Only Woman in the Room, we see the other side to Hedy Lamarr. Fuelled by both guilt and an inherent desire to do something for the cause war wise, this budding scientist enlists the help of George Antheil, a composer and musician to assist her in the creation of a radio guidance system designed for Allied torpedoes, drawing on the use of frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology.  An impressive feat. The science and inventions references were fascinating, but the highlight of Benedict’s novel was the platonic relationship that is explored between Hedy and George. This touching relationship is carefully realised on the pages of the novel and it was definitely my favourite segment of Hedy’s story. Although Hedy remarries after Fritz and she has plenty of love interests, no one quite matches up to George, a friend for life.

I appreciated how Benedict explored the limitations and sexist attitudes of the time in relation to a woman experimenting with science. Hedy was taken as a fool and she is quickly dismissed by the personnel she pitches her scientific invention to. This made me sad, but it also felt like a strong and honest representation of a very realistic scenario. I actually had no idea that Hedy Lamarr was a aspiring scientist. Many underestimated the capacity and brilliant mind of this screen star. There is a bittersweet achievement for Hedy in the latter stages of the novel which provides hope and light to this inspiring figure’s efforts.

The Only Woman in the Room is an informative and surprising story that charts the life of a woman who possessed an enterprising and incredibly sharp mind. Sadly, we learn how Hedy was overlooked in regards to her scientific efforts, in favour of her screen presence and remarkable beauty. Marie Benedict attempts to break down the barriers of this major screen star’s life, unveiling the rich life story of a woman who never gave up contributing to the world of science and invention.

**** 4 stars

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict was published on 9th April 2019. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Only Woman in the Room, Marie Benedict, visit here.

11 thoughts on “POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020: The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

  1. Oh, what an excellent choice for the prompt ‘a woman in STEM.’ I had no inkling Hedy was a promising scientist, who knows what she could have achieved had she been born in a later decade! In my 30s I primarily read biographies/memoirs by or about actresses/actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I adored those books. I don’t think I read one about Hedy Lamarr though. Ooh, there is a Hedy Lamarr book on the banned book list, now I’m intrigued. Highly interested in reading The Only Woman in the Room. A shame it’s not on the BorrowBox app. None of Marie Benedict’s are 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, it worked so well for this category and I have to say I enjoyed it immensely! I had no idea about her connections to science or invention, she was quite a lady!

      Great to hear you have a prior interest in Hollywood actresses – they sure lead fascinating lives. I covered a few in my year 12 media studies course in the UK, so I think my interest started then.

      I’s sorry you can’t access this one via BorrowBox. I hope you can still get to it in another way.

      Like

    1. I can see why, it was an enthralling historical tale!
      That’s a shame, I hope you can get hold of a copy of Benedict’s new one, it looks amazing, it’s one my wishlist! I’m impatient for publication!

      Like

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