Society in 1887 knows Maribel Campbell Lowe as the sophisticated, Chilean wife of Edward, the radical MP from Argyllshire. But when her mother contacts her out of the blue, and Edward’s fervent support of the working man attracts a sensationalist newspaper editor’s attention, she worries they will be ruined.
A wonderful creation, Maribel gradually earns readers’ empathy. She realizes exposure of her Yorkshire roots would be devastating socially and to Edward’s already shaky career, yet she can’t help reaching back to touch her past.
Though strongly paced and laced with suspense, the novel focuses on how Maribel’s deception shapes her character and interactions. Her unusual marriage (Edward knows some of her background) and warm relationship with her family-oriented best friend are well portrayed.
Their milieu springs to life with its stylish cultural ambience and socialist protests, and the city’s latest obsessions—Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and the burgeoning art of photography—have similar shades of artifice. An unpredictable, historically authentic take on how we all carry secrets.
Beautiful Lies will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on September 18th (hb, $26.00, 512pp). It appeared in June from Harvill Secker in the UK (hb, £12.99), with identical cover art. This review originally appeared in the August issue of Booklist; I wrote it up as a starred review.
Having read Clark's Savage Lands for this site two years ago – a novel about the Louisiana colony of New France, rather than the Canadian one from Suzanne Desrochers' novel – I approached this one with some trepidation. (For me, Savage Lands started out quite dry.) I needn't have worried. It's one of my favorite books so far this year.