Liz Jones is a fabulous character. A career-driven corporate lawyer from Brisbane, she’s outgoing, funny, and occasionally blunt, but it’s for the right reasons. When her boss asks her to travel to the Isle of Wight and investigate the history of Seagrove, a stately home once owned by his ancestor, she resists – a beach vacation with her husband awaits.
But her marriage is shaky, and their joint holiday doesn’t happen, so soon Liz finds herself abroad, renting Seagrove’s guest cottage. Here she gets entangled with the Nash family, including guarded, down-to-earth Theo, while pretending to be researching Delany, his notorious ancestress. Wells’ background as an attorney adds depth: in 1789, Delany’s husband, an earlier Lord Nash, goes to court against his brother Julian, a “radical rogue and reckless libertine,” for supposedly having seduced his beautiful wife.
There’s more to the story, of course. What stands out is how real the situations feel, and how skillfully Wells avoids stereotypes. Delany makes a grand entrance into the courtroom and novel, complete with ostrich-plumed hat and confidence to spare, but her version of her alleged adultery (as her journal reveals) takes unexpected twists. Liz’s story also has significant heft, especially when her deception begins to clash with her closeness to the Nashes, Theo in particular. Even the villainous characters are drawn with nuance. Full of great dialogue, romance, and a breathtaking coastal landscape, this engrossing novel deserves a wide audience.
The Wife's Tale was published by Penguin Australia in 2016 (trade pb, A$32.99, 439pp). I bought my own copy from Fishpond after seeing positive reviews of it elsewhere. This review first appeared in November's Historical Novels Review. I hope the book will find a US publisher.
This is my 5th post for the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.