Paperbacks: Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan

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The Independent Culture

SCEPTRE £7.99 (416PP) (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897Don't let the sappy title put you off this steely re-telling of one of the more scandalous chapters in the life of the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1907, while designing a "prairie house" in Oak Park, Illinois, Wright fell in love with his client, the beautiful and clever Mrs Mamah Borthwick Cheney. A new home and a tasteful garage installation later, the couple left for Europe, abandoning their spouses, nine children and a tabloid press hungry for details. No one could have predicted the final chapter of an affair that, five years later, was to leave two families devastated by an act of unimaginable violence. Debut novelist Nancy Horan, herself a one-time resident of Oak Park, does an impressive job of rescuing Mamah from the footnotes of history. As she sticks closely to the facts – old newspaper reports, letters, contemporary – there proves little need for novelistic invention. The most fascinating sections examine Mamah's attempts to intellectualise her actions, in particular her attachment to proto-feminist thinking. In her diary, she copies out a quote from Charlotte Perkins Gilman: "It is not sufficient to be a mother: an oyster can be a mother." Maternal guilt sits grit-like in the gloopy soup of this high romance. The children haunt the sidelines of the novel like needy foundlings. On their return from Europe, the loved-up twosome move into Wright's newly built home, the famous "Taliesin", and the setting for the story's grisly final act. This compelling read sheds light on an ill-fated relationship from the foundations up.

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