book review: Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark

The basics: Set in 1887 London, Beautiful Lies is the story of Maribel Campbell Lowe, whose husband Edward Campbell Lowe is a politician. Maribel was born in Chile and educated in Paris. When a letter arrives from her estranged mother asking to meet in London, their picture perfect life begins to unravel.

My thoughts: One challenge with historical fiction can be making characters both true to their time and accessibly to contemporary readers. Writing about female characters can pose a particular challenge, especially in the case of Maribel Campbell Lowe, who pushed against the gender boundaries of the 1880s. Clark masterfully sets the stage of Victorian London through her descriptive and detailed writing, but it was the dialogue and inner thoughts of Maribel that most impressed me. It was fascinating to read the different ways Maribel spoke to her husband, society equals, and the hired help. Through these distinctions, Clark gave Maribel her defiant voice yet stayed true to history.

It's clear from the title of this novel there are lies, and I won't spoil the pleasure of deciphering the truths from the lies here. Clark bases this novel on the real life story of Gabriela and Robert Cunninghame Graham. Knowing the story is based on real people made it even more suspenseful. As eager as I was to discover Maribel's lies, I was also eager to see how this story matched reality (Clark has a lengthy--and fabulous--author's note at the end.) I'm fascinated by political history, as the perspective of history gives us enough distance to see the big picture, and I loved the detail of this turbulent political time. What is perhaps most impressive, however, is how Clark ties all of the details and issues of Victorian London to today. As I read, I was immersed in the world of Maribel, but I couldn't help realizing how many parallels there are to other times.

Favorite passage: "I am not interested in the Indians as curiosities. If I am to photograph them it should be as they really are. The truth, not the myth-making."

The verdict: Beautiful Lies transported me to Victorian England. Clark made the politics and culture of the time come alive and feel familiar, and I'll state my prediction now: look for this title on the 2013 Orange Prize longlist in March.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 512 pages
Publication date: September 18, 2012
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Beautiful Lies from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.) Want more? Check out the entire tour schedule.

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  1. This is a book that I have been reading about for a few days now, and I am eagerly anticipating reading it myself. I love the idea that this one is based on the lives of real people, yet stays very close to the truth of their lives. Excellent review today. I need to scout out a copy of this one when I can!

  2. I would be v happy to see this on the Orange longlist -- it was a marvelous novel. Will probably end up on my top ten of 2012 -- literary, thick, rich, historical, seedy, complicated but readable...yum!

  3. I love when authors of historical fiction include lengthy notes to tell you some of "what is real and what I made up" at the end. Sounds like this one was a real winner. I'll keep it in mind for my historical fiction friends.

  4. How well an author stays true to history has a huge impact on my enjoyment of a book but it sounds like I wouldn't have anything to worry about here!

    Thanks for being on the tour.


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