Recreates the origins of D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" from its private publication by Lawrence through the 1960 obscenity trial that sought to suppress the full, uncensored edition, reimagining its journey to freedom through the story of Jackie Kennedy, who was known to be an admirer.
[MacLeod's] focus shifts elegantly, imagining Lawrence as he nurtures ideas in sequences rich with poetic memory, then recounting the trial with journalistic rigour. Here she is aware of the vantage point she writes from – when EM Forster enters, 'he nods to us as he crosses the threshold of the court, the only person yet to notice. He is a novelist of rank, and he senses the eyes of posterity.' The novel ends with a deeply moving imagined sequence, an afterlife of happiness for Constance and Mellors that is beautiful and unexpected. These shifts seem effortless because MacLeod’s subject sits above them all, uniting threads – the story of how a story made its way into the world. It’s a brilliant insight to build a novel on, all of us knowing the book will triumph and willing it towards us. It makes for a propulsive, addictive, joyous read ... The only questionable leap is MacLeod’s decision to counterpoint the history of Lady Chatterley with a story about Jacqueline Kennedy during her husband’s presidential campaign, and the tribulations of the FBI agent who covertly photographs her attending a similar 'Chatterley trial' in the US. This sequence, it should be noted, is masterfully achieved, chronicling FBI director J Edgar Hoover’s efforts to keep the book from the world, and full of deep resonances with the story unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic. But it never really impacts on the journey of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and seems somehow separate, useful for rhythmic variation but distinct from the rest ... There is much to love in this novel, because MacLeod loves so much of what she has put into it ... The triumphant emergence of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is given fitting tribute here; it reminds us that moments like the Chatterley trial are precious, and must be cherished and defended, because progress is never inevitable. Victories for freedom should be sung from the rooftops. That is what MacLeod has done.
... bold, adventurous and unpredictable. It is also Lawrentian, insofar as MacCleod uses real people as copy, except that her people have died so can no longer sue ... Working within the constraint of the facts (there are fifteen pages of endnotes), MacCleod allows her fictions to take root ... At times such as these, we feel, MacLeod has felt the need to jettison some of the 'better, stranger, stronger' stuff in pursuit of interiority ... The inventions are compelling, and the blending of the Kennedys with the Chatterleys is wittily done.
... arresting ... This is a documentary-style novel in the tradition of John Dos Passos or Vasily Grossman, with tinges of Didion and Mailer to brighten the way ... There is so much to enjoy here, and it’s only when MacLeod attempts the inner imaginings of the power players that the prose becomes less wieldy ... And the novel could perhaps have done without so many pages amounting to little more than court transcript with added adverbs or biographical summation – the Greatham colony sequence quickly turns into a biblical deluge of famous names ... MacLeod’s novel is at its best when it stops and dwells on all of the imagined encounters, allowing them room to blossom and give us some genuine, and genuinely convincing, moments where humans seek to find and show tenderness for one another. After all, Tenderness was Lawrence’s alternative title for Lady Chatterley.