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Reviewed by Vera Pereskokova (Luxury Reading)
In late 19th century London, Maribel Campbell Lowe, the beautiful wife of the Scottish Liberal MP (Member of Parliament), is not who she appears to be. To the public, she’s Edward Campbell Lowe’s exotic wife, a Chilean heiress who dabbles in poetry and the new art of photography. In reality, Maribel – a.k.a. Peggy Bryant – ran away from home as a teenager to pursue an acting career in London. She never became a star and instead wound up in a Mexican brothel where she eventually met Edward; the two came up with a new life for Maribel, one more befitting of a politician’s wife.
As London swirls with unrest and anger of the repressed poor, Maribel’s carefully crafted lie of a life is in similar disarray. She is contacted by her mother, and finds out that the sisters she abandoned all those years ago have been living in London all along. Maribel is particularly distraught over the proximity of her favorite sister Ida, the only one of her siblings she regretted leaving behind. With Edward’s career, and possibly freedom, in limbo over his radical views and actions, the couple cannot risk a scandal. But with newspaper editor and sensationalist Alfred Webster sniffing around, a scandal maybe exactly where they are headed…
Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark is a sprawling novel based on the first-ever Socialist member of UK Parliament, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, and his wife Gabrielle, who hid her true identity for decades. Meticulously researched, Beautiful Lies is as much the story of Maribel as it is the story of London on the brink of disaster, rife with class tensions and the poor masses tired of being ignored.
Clark does a wonderful job with descriptions and adds in events and figures to round out the time period; I could readily envision the excitement over Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West or the Socialist organized march on Trafalgar Square. However, in my opinion, these detailed descriptions were at times also detrimental to the story. For example, Maribel was a prolific smoker, which was quite uncommon for women at that time. Her smoking, her removal of cigarettes from the case, her putting out the cigarettes, and so on, were mentioned in great detail ad nauseam in almost every chapter.
Beautiful Lies has a lot to offer readers, and especially fans of historical fiction, but I felt there were almost too many interloping story lines to keep track of. There were plenty of gems of chapters that kept me glued to the page, but just as I would get invested in one story line the gears would switch to something unrelated.
Overall, reading Beautiful Lies made for a good learning opportunity about this period in UK history if not for an entirely enjoyable reading experience.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.a Rafflecopter giveaway