The Prodigal Daughter, by Jeffrey Archer
Before I commence this review, I have to state, hand on heart, that I have no affection for this author’s political affiliation, but I hope this shouldn’t preclude me from delivering an impartial review of this story, which must be one of his best known ones. I was in the mood for an undemanding read, after having read a few gripping stories, which I have sadly not had the time to review, thanks to circumstances which have required my full attention for a week or so; also, I do tend to become involved with the plot, which can be somewhat wearing, so the occasional undemanding read is a good antidote to that and, although I can’t speak for most of the rest of his oeuvre, without wishing to be in any way derogatory, this story is relatively pedestrian. It is also one of those ‘neither fish nor fowl’ mélanges of American terminology with British spelling but, given that the story concerns itself with the American version of the subject with which the author was well acquainted; i.e., politics; that is hardly surprising—indeed, I would even go so far as to say that it is appropriate.
Another of Archer’s books, Kane and Abel, with which I am not, hitherto, familiar, must, logically, deal with two of the principal characters featured in this book, yet no reference is made to it in this story so, given that this book details the life stories of both characters, as a prelude to the life of the eponymous daughter, I would be curious to know what else the other story might have to add. This is the story of old money [Kane] versus a Polish immigrant [Abel Rosnovski] who makes a roaring success of the hotel trade, as a result of sheer hard work [a characteristic always applauded in America], and his daughter, Florentyna, who harbours political ambitions, almost from birth, so it would seem; before these can be realised, however, she learns her father’s business, through practical experience, working as a shop assistant, after an exemplary education at one of America’s foremost women’s universities, where her outstanding intellect is nurtured. This intellect is encouraged, incidentally, by an English governess, Miss Winifred Tredgold; although Florentyna only discovers this given name after the formidable woman’s death, towards the end of the book.
Early in the story, an implacable enmity between the two men is created, when Kane, on behalf of his company’s bank [partly owned by his family], refuses a loan to Abel for the survival of the hotel group which he has just taken over, following the death of its previous owner; subsequent to this, the two men are metaphorically ‘daggers drawn’ with each other, although Florentyna’s actions will precipitate a meshing of the lives of the two families, which is not easily accepted. This does facilitate Florentyna’s political career, however, and many real characters in American politics are incorporated, to give the story plausibility; and people of my vintage should still be able to remember the political events from the 1960s onwards, psychedelic experiences notwithstanding, so there is a certain nostalgia element to the story as well. This is about as much as can be revealed without spoiling the plot, but if nothing else, this is an interesting lesson in American politics, although the venality & aspirational egotism incorporated therein should come as no great surprise. The praise for Archer on the book is characteristically hyperbolic, but I have no hesitation in commending this as a well-crafted and workmanlike narrative. The paperback I read was published in 2017 [original 1982] by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, ISBN 978-1-5098-0870-0.