Review: I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott

Susan Holloway Scott brings all her considerable expertise to this book, and it definitely shows: I really enjoyed reading this more unconventional take on American history, and seeing Alexander Hamilton through a completely different lens.

Holloway Scott plunges us straight into a living, breathing eighteenth-century America, where Eliza Schulyer, the daughter of a Dutch family, is living the American War of Independence before she meets Alexander Hamilton, the man who she’ll end up marrying.

Being British myself (sorry), I don’t really know a lot about this period of history- or about the importance that Hamilton had in forging the Declaration of Independence- but everything here is introduced in a completely natural way: it’s simply part of the characters’ lives. The author’s passion is evident in every word on the page- every part of this book has been meticulously researched, and it shows in everything from the events that happen in the story to the characters’ surroundings and daily lives.

But breathing life into the characters of Eliza and Alexander Hamilton is the trickiest part of this book, and one that Holloway Scott nails. The hard bit about writing about historical figures is that you don’t want to idealise them, or you’ll end up with a very bland bit of writing; this is made harder by the fact that very few letters or information survives about the everyday life of Eliza Hamilton. However the author creates a character that is believable and fully-rounded. Though Eliza is very much of her time, with that time’s attitudes and language, she has enough flashes of spark, bravery and attitude throughout the novel to mark her out as a strong-willed heroine in her own right, though I admit to her undying love for Alexander becomes a little one-note after a while.

However, the focus is very much on Hamilton. Though the novel is narrated from Eliza’s point of view, the focus is mostly on her famous husband, who is sparky, charismatic and brilliant enough to merit his real-life achievements. I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about this period of history, but I did find out thanks to this book just how much of a powerhouse Hamilton was. It must have been fascinating researching and writing about him, and it was equally fascinating reading about him, but his private life with Eliza is given just as much focus as his achievements (flaws and all) creating a living, breathing person rather than an untouchable icon.

Hooray!

And his achievements are remarkable. Holloway Scott takes the time to go through them all, from his meeting with Eliza to his eventual death, giving us a full tour of the Hamiltons’ remarkable lives and really taking you into their world. Though there are some big jumps in time, which take away a little bit from the overall flow of the novel, the writing is engaging and watching Eliza and Hamilton, as well as their relationship, develop, is gripping and heartfelt. Holloway Scott steers the story with a confident, lyrical hand that makes it easy to read: I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a great historical read- or even just a good romance.

Book cover taken from Goodreads.

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