London 1887. For Maribel Campbell Lowe, the beautiful bohemian wife of a maverick politician, it is the year to make something of herself. A self-proclaimed Chilean heiress educated in Paris, she is torn between poetry and the new art of photography. But it is soon plain that Maribel’s choices are not so simple. As her husband’s career hangs by a thread, her real past, and the family she abandoned, come back to haunt them both. When the notorious newspaper editor Alfred Webster begins to take an uncommon interest in Maribel, she fears he will not only destroy Edward’s career but both of their reputations. Inspired by the true story of a politician’s wife who lived a double life for decades, Beautiful Lies is set in a time that, fraught with economic uncertainty and tabloid scandal-mongering, uncannily presages our own.
When I first read the blurb, I thought it was going to be more along the lines of bodice-ripping historical fiction than interesting, based-on-actual-events historical fiction (not that bodice-ripping doesn't also have its time and place, don't get me wrong). I was pleasantly surprised by how richly textured and finely detailed the story is. Clark’s writing made me feel like I was there, lurking in the corners of rooms where conversations were taking place and walking the streets of London with the characters. She does a great job of letting the reader into the head of the main character, Maribel, but does so slowly and carefully, developing the character as she says she is while simultaneously playing out the story as it develops, and as you learn who Maribel really is.
Initially, when Maribel’s secret is revealed (early in the book, this isn’t a plot spoiler) I thought “Ok, Maribel isn’t who she says she is. Big deal.” But then as I read further I came to realize that this was actually a very big deal, and had the potential to ruin her life and the career and life of her husband, a man I came to like as his character was revealed and developed. That is where things really got interesting. Also interesting is the fact that the character of Maribel’s husband, Edward Campbell Lowe, is based on a real person, Robert Cunninghame Graham, an eccentric radical Scottish aristocrat who became a founder of the Scottish Labour Party — which laid the foundation for the modern-day Labour Party in the United Kingdom. Maribel’s character was inspired by his wife, Gabriela. Clark obviously did her homework, but it doesn’t come across in the book as pedantic or overbearing, which requires immense skill when you’re writing historical fiction based on fact. For this reason alone, Anglophiles and historians alike should definitely pick up this book.
I’m thrilled to be able to give away a copy of this book to one lucky U.S. reader! Leave a comment telling me your favorite thing that's come out of England and I’ll pick the winner next week using a random number generator.
Disclosure: TLC Book Tours provided me with a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions and views are all mine.