Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Twain's End

Isabel Lyon was hired as a secretary for Mrs. Clemens, wife of the famous and much-loved Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). When she begins her assignment, she finds that Mrs. Clemens is very ill and her real task will be maintaining the Clemens household, which includes covering up the impetuous whims of Samuel and daughter Clara, and ensuring care for the lady of the house and her epileptic daughter.

This is a well-written story, but if you are a person who adore Mark Twain or someone who prefers a likeable character, this may not be the book for you. Ms. Cullen portrays a man who is incredibly selfish, pompous, and obsessed with the way he is perceived by his fans. Isabel is a tough protagonist to follow - she is consistently explaining away the awful, hurtful behavior of the entire Clemens family. Cullen seems to have done a lot of research, looking at the letters and diaries. But it seems like the focus is on the cruel, self-centered moments of each person, with little time spent on any times that may have redeemed them.

Within Twain's End, the reader learns some lesser-known and really fascinating details about the author. He was friends with Helen Keller, started a sort of fan club for himself of young girls, and was convinced that he would die with the return of Halley's Comet. But the most striking thing in this novel is the contrast between the much-loved author and the fearful, paranoid man that his family knew. This book will make you wish for better things for Isabel Lyons and Samuel Clemens, and it will certainly make you think differently about the beloved author we all thought we knew. 

Twain's End
By Lynn Cullen
Gallery Books October 2015
352 pages
Read via Netgalley


  1. I didn't know this book existed, but it sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    Majanka @ I Heart Reading.

  2. I don't know much about Mark Twain but it seems that the few things that I've gathered throughout the years are more on the negative--or at least critical side. But yes--I would think it would be grating to only hear about the negatives and none of the light sides. Kind of makes me want to search out a biography of him!

  3. Sounds interesting, but you're right, I'm not sure I want to picture Mark Twain that way. :)

  4. I really enjoyed The Secret Chord, which I think you also read, so I expect I'd also enjoy this more complex look at the character of a famous figure.