The Recluse Heiress Huguette Clark

This isn’t the first book I’ve read this year, but it will be the first post reviewing a book you’ll get this year. As a Technical Services Librarian almost every single book the library orders, comes across my desk at some point. It is both a blessing, and a curse because I get to see all the goodies, but it does not help shrink my TBR pile!

Honestly, I am not sure how I came across this book, what I was searching for in our library catalog, but the title pulled me in, as well as the photograph of the beautiful 5th Avenue mansion that only stood for 14 years before being demolished.

“Empty Mansions: the Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune,” written by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., was an interesting biography to read, though not without flaw. Many book reviewers find it easy to tear books apart for the language used, grammar issues, or the way the book is set up. Normally, I try to ignore most of these problems to get to the content, the meat of the book. I acknowledge my own grammar isn’t perfect, but sometimes there are decisions that writers make that distract me from the rest of the book.

From the title, one would think the book would be mainly about the many properties that the Clark’s owned over the years, with a smaller focus on Huguette. I understand that background knowledge must be created among the readers, but I do not believe that the book needed to focus quite so much on Huguette’s father, W.A. Clark. Often, while reading I felt that the book were more about him and the properties than about Huguette, the properties, and the fortune she spent.

The parts that focused on Huguette were clearly written to make the reader judge her for her eccentricities. There are several points in the book that guide the reader to believe there must have been something wrong with her. When she was found at her apartment with neglected health, her lengthy, unnecessary stay at the hospital, her many gifts to her various caregivers, and her will. The authors would then write sections, although much shorter, that demonstrated her competence, encouraging readers to battle back and forth within themselves as to whether or not this woman was being taken advantage of. I am of split mind as to whether or not her various caretakers were taking advantage of her or not. I also believe that the authors rushed to publish this biography. Although, already a couple years after her passing, the book seems unfinished by the abrupt ending demonstrating that the battle over the will was still coming to terms.

Luckily, for me anyways, while pulling this book off the shelf at my library, I spotted another biography about Mrs. Huguette Marcelle Clark. I am excited to see if that book will give any more insight to the mysterious recluse than a book co-authored by a relative could give.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

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