Non-conformist, independent woman, and repeat runaway bride, Idina Sackville’s fantastic stories of love, lust, and leaving are told through the eyes of her great-grandaughter, author Frances Osborne, in The Bolter.
As a rich debutante in Edwardian England, Idina Sackville went everywhere with a black Pekingese named Satan, an excellent indicator of her disregard for conformity. “An extraordinary mixture of sybarite and pioneer,” according to a friend, Sackville quickly mastered the art of pleasing herself: collecting husbands and lovers, trading her children for a freer life in Kenya. Frances Osborne, Sackville’s great-granddaughter, meticulously tracks the life of a woman who, having witnessed her father’s betrayal of her mother, made sure she was never abandoned by a man. Instead, she left first, eventually marrying five times. The book borrows its title from the name of an absentee mother in three Nancy Mitford novels (one of them titled, appropriately enough, The Pursuit of Love). Sackville’s uncanny resemblance to the fictionalized bolter earned her, in select circles, the eponymous nickname. At first, reading about her ups and downs feels like the literary equivalent of drinking deli coffee: hot, caffeinated, and easy to throw away. But Sackville eventually gets under one’s skin. As the adventures pile up, Sackville’s endless appetite for attention reveals a profound and occasionally relatable loneliness, and Osborne’s riveting account shifts into more personal territory, as she carefully connects the ramifications of her relative’s scandals to her own life.