Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long
Having enjoyed Daisy Goodwin’s first novel, The Last Duchess and enjoyed it greatly I was looking forward to her second, The Fortune Hunter, and even more so when I heard it featured Elizabeth, Empress of Austria. I still have on my bookshelves a very old and battered biography of the Lonely Empress by Joan Haslip, which I read years ago when I worked in Highgate Library in my teens. I was totally engrossed in the life of this beautiful and fascinating woman and, being young, thought how glamorous and wonderful it was that Sisi, as her family called her, captured the heart of Franz Joseph and became Empress. Later on I changed my mind and felt sorry for this innocent light hearted girl being sent away from her family to cope with living in Vienna and dealing not only with a new husband, but a new life, home and the stultifying etiquette of the Viennese court.
Elizabeth became disillusioned pretty rapidly, found her husband boring and distant and later began to travel and roam the world trying to find the happiness that eluded her at home. She was a superb horsewoman and she comes to England to hunt bringing her horses and entourage with her. And it is during this time that she meets Bay Middleton, one of the best riders in England and the only man who can keep up with her on the hunting field. They embark on a passionate affair even though Bay is promised to Charlotte Baird, a daughter of a wealthy shipping family with brothers who were keen riders, but the mutual attraction was hard to resist and it must have been heady stuff to be desired by a woman reputed to be the most beautiful in Europe.
We only know the bare bones of Bay Middleton’s life and not a great deal about his affair with the Empress, if there was one at all. The biography I read is so many years old and biographers were not so forthcoming about certain aspects of their subject’s life back in the sixties as they are now. But whether they did or not, Daisy Goodwin takes it as the subject of The Fortune Hunter and it certainly makes for a great story. Charlotte becomes a strong willed young woman interested in photography and not particularly caring for society, Bay fascinating and weak willed, drawn to Charlotte but besotted with the Empress, and Elizabeth, wilful, beautiful, selfish and deeply unhappy and dissatisfied. Round this triangle and the battle for Bay’s affections we have a smashing story written in great style and rattling along beautifully and keeping the reader enthralled. I found it a took a little while to get going but once it did off it went full tilt and the reader taken along for the ride and left breathless at the finish.
Elaine blogs at Random Jottings. http://randomjottings.typepad.com
Daisy Goodwin, The Fortune Hunter (Headline review, London, 2014) 9780755348114, paperback, 512 pages.