Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark

Title: Beautiful Lies
Author: Clare Clark

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1880s / UK / Marriage / Domestic Fiction / Skeletons in the Closet / Victoriana / Political Thriller / London / Socialism / Photography)
Publisher/Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (9/18/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Looooooooooooooooooooooved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The exotic wife of a radical MP has to keep quiet the secrets of her past while honoring her desire for artistic exploration and recognition.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Victorian

Do I like the cover?: I luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurve it. I want a print of it. Might be my most favorite cover of the year so far.

I'm reminded of...: Jane Harris, Sadie Jones, Ami McKay

First line: The room was dark.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: I think this is going to be a 'buy' -- it's big, and chunky and needs to be savored, and I suspect might even be a reread for some! (It will be for me!)

Why did I get this book?: Because despite being a hist fic fan, I've somehow never read Clark yet!

Review: Words always fail when I'm really in love with a novel; a problem made worse when the novel in question is written in lush, lovely, dense, tangled, photographic, poetic prose. How do I compete?? Here's my try:

Set in the late 1880s, the novel follows Maribel Campbell Lowe, a stunning foreign beauty who smokes too much (in an era when only 'loose women' smoked!), is married to a radical Member of Parliament who supports socialism and reform, who yearns for the passion and inspiration that comes from an artistic life while performing her social obligations as an MP's wife.

Inspired by a real life couple, Robert Cunninghame Graham (who was the first socialist MP) and his wife Gabriela Cunninghame Graham, Clark's novel is hefty and rich, loaded with historical details about a Victorian London I'm unfamiliar with. Buffalo Bill Cody and his entourage are visiting, loaded with tons of gravel and rocks to replicate the Rocky Mountains in their performances. Queen Victoria's Jubilee is underway. The government and public are wrestling with suffrage, the right to assemble, the values they wish to embody -- and legalize -- while remaining safe.

Initially, I had a hard time getting into the book -- the novel opens with a game of charades, with our heroine and other side characters -- but within forty pages or so, I was hooked. Maribel has a secret, and I wanted to know what it was.

Clark's writing style is ... amazing. I'm prone to hyperbole, I know, and I'm pretty gushy in most of my reviews, so what do I mean by 'amazing'? The narrative is meaty, with flavor -- wry, sarcastic, dry, historical, detailed, emotional -- and the characters confusingly human. There's so much loaded into every sentence, but I wasn't aware of reading.

I was reminded of An Ideal Husband -- especially the lovely 1999 film version with Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett (those dresses and hairstyles, the clever repartee and layers of secrets!) -- and I admit it: I want this to be a BBC miniseries stat. Maribel moves in Wilde's circle, so the connection was likely intentional, and I'm sure there's numerous nods to literary and artistic influences of the era that I missed but others might see.

This is historical fiction for anyone who hates romantic historical novels -- there's a strong current of love here, but it's not a bodice ripper -- and those who enjoy savoring strong women, strong writing, strong setting will be very, very happy to dig in.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Beautiful Lies to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only (sorry!). Ends 10/5. For another entry, check out my interview with Clare Clark.


28 comments:

  1. I am reading this next week and am now even more excited. I am totally with you on the cover too--I would frame it. I've never read Clark either, but as she is an Orange Prize author, she's been on my radar. I am so looking forward to reading this one.

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    1. Can't wait to see what you think -- I hesitated to call this a literary historical because I'm afraid it'll scare folks off but it is wonderfully ... not quite brainy, that's not the word I want ... dense, I guess, but not in a bad way. Like a really rich piece of poundcake? Anyway -- I am in love.

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  2. Oh geez. One look at that cover and I am hooked and you are so right, that would make a fantastic print. I'm in and am definitely making this my next read.

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    1. I need to find a more hi-res image to share b/c it's even more gorgeous in person -- kind of speckled background, deep purple, gorgeous-y teal-y turquoise -- LOVE IT. Thankfully, the innards are as amazing as the cover!

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    2. Well, hello, Steena! I wonder how you found this blog...

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  3. Meaty with flavor says it all, really.

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    1. Which makes it sound like a steak, I suppose, but that might be a good thing for some! ;)

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  4. Ooh, I want, want, want! This sounds magnificent, entering the giveaway now!

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    1. It is absolutely want-worthy -- gah, so good!

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  5. That is a gorgeous cover, and you've made it sound fantastic. Add the comparison to Sadie Jones, and I really want to read it. :)

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    1. Anna, it is soooooo good. It's not war-related in the slightest but it has that sharp look at society and culture that I think one finds in good war fic, and in this way, it has some of that wry, British-y iciness I so love in Sadie Jones.

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  6. Ahhhhhh! I want this SO BADLY now, and I'd never even heard of it. I swear I check the TLC Book Tours site all the time, but every time you're on a tour that I'm not, I'm like HOW DID I MISS THAT ONE? Sigh. I need to learn your TLC addicted ways.

    Seriously, I probably saw this and read 'politician' and passed it by. That was clearly a mistake. This has now been added to GR. :) Lovely review, dear!

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    1. Christina -- in this case, I picked by cover and author -- having been familiar with Clark already -- otherwise, I might have missed it -- I skipped The Orchardist thinking it was kind of chick-lit-y/inspirational and it apparently is awesome and now I'm ruing that I passed on it!

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  7. Sounds fascinating! I love that it is based on a real couple.

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    1. I was sad at first Clark decided to not just stick with the couple, but when I tried to google more about the wife, I realized there's, like, nothing about her and I liked that Clark had the latitude to go nuts, plot-wise, with Maribel since she was fictional. Everything about this book just worked for me!

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  8. Sounds like you enjoyed this one a little bit more than I did. I think it got bogged down too much in the historical details -- so much so I couldn't connect with the character and then all that descriptive stuff about smoke and going in her lungs, etc.

    ***Spoiler alert***

    Then there was the threat of scandal, which really had nothing to do with her secret...which disappointed me.

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    1. This one worked for me, even at the weak parts -- I noticed Clark had things 'sigh' a lot -- fireplaces, pieces of paper, etc -- but overall I was so caught up in the story I could forgive those weaknesses.

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  9. This sounds like a great book. I look forward to reading it.
    Judith

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  10. Sounds like a great story actually. I wasn't so sure but your review made me reconsider.

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    1. Others, like Serena from Savvy Verse & Wit, weren't as wild for it, but I just fell in love.

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  11. Guess I'm going to have to add this one to my tbr pile :-)

    Great review!

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  12. I do love the cover and it sounds like something I would love. I'm going to have to go and enter the giveaway now.

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  13. This sounds really good. I love the cover. I love Victorian settings and a political thriller set in that time period would be so interesting.

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  14. When you get this excited over a book I always want to drop what I'm doing and go get that particular book RIGHT AWAY and start reading. You DO realize that you wreak havoc on my TBR list, right Audra?! :)

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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    1. Hooray, I win at life!! :) I mean, I *am* sorry for the TBR havoc but I do love foisting good books on awesome people! So I'm only slightly sorry! ;)

      Thank you for featuring me -- I appreciate it!

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  15. Thanks for your post, I am also on the Book Tour, and loved it. Some of it, yes was unbelievable at times. But, the author's writing style was addictive, and captivating. I love historical fiction, like this with a twist. Which is not often in historical fiction. You can visit my blog and see what I have to say at http://susansliterarycafe.blogspot.com. Thanks again for your post.

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  16. This sounds wonderful - great review! adding to the TBR, sounds like a great read for when you need transporting :D

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