Clark’s fourth novel (after Savage Lands) offers an informative if disjointed portrait of the Victorian era, encompassing socialist politics, spiritualism, economic crisis, tabloid journalism, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, and family secrets. Maribel Campbell Lowe is the wife of an earnest MP, whose passion for the socialist cause puts his political career at risk. Maribel’s photography hobby brings her into contact both with the Indians of Buffalo Bill’s show and the growing spiritualist movement, whose members are fascinated by the possibility of spirits appearing in photographs, a sometimes accidental and often duplicitous practice. The core of the book is Maribel’s personal history, a secret life she has hidden at the cost of losing her family. When a devious newspaper editor comes close to revealing her past, and destroying her reputation and her husband’s career, bright, resourceful Maribel must take a stand. Individual vignettes—Maribel’s photo studio, the lively spirit of the Wild West Show, her husband’s involvement with socialism—will charm devotees of the Victorian era, but no meaningful connection between them is made, and the novel bursts at the seams as Clark struggles to wrap them up by the end. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Sept.)
On the face of it, Edward and Maribel Campbell Lowe are a respectable Victorian couple with an estate in Scotland and a fashionable flat in Belgravia. He is a reform-minded member of Parliament whose associates include Oscar Wilde and William Morris. She is a beautiful, Chilean-born society matron who smokes too much and dabbles in photography. But Maribel is not who she appears to be, and unresolved ties to her past threaten to expose her family to scandal and ruin. At the dawn of tabloid journalism, with Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show arriving in London to massive crowds and unprecedented press coverage, the Campbell Lowes provide great fodder for the gossipmongers. Edward's firebrand politics on behalf of the homeless and unemployed lead to considerable notoriety, casting an unkind spotlight on the couple. VERDICT Inspired by a real-life politician of the era and his wife, Clark (The Great Stink) presents another engaging, compulsively readable window into Victorian society. This should be a popular choice in public libraries.—Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
A well-rendered novel of extraordinary lives in Victorian London. Bodices are ripped, to be sure, but Clark (Savage Lands, 2010, etc.) offers much more than a genre romance with her tale of the darkly beautiful Maribel Campbell Lowe, of whom we learn, early on, "Mrs. Campbell Lowe is from Chile where llamas really live and therefore, unlike a little English girl, knows exactly how to say it right." She knows more than how to pronounce the double ell. Maribel is a freethinker, savage smoker of cigarettes, literata and artist who knows her way around that newfangled thing called a view camera ("The darkroom smelled as it always did of chemicals and used-up air"). Her husband, wild and Scottish, is no slouch in the bohemian department, either; an aristocratic imbiber of great quaffs of distilled goodies, he's a headline waiting to happen. Enter newsman Alfred Webster, who professes to admire their free-spirited ways--but then begins to warm up to a carefully hidden secret from Maribel's past, for how could she not have a fathomlessly deep mystery at her core? Amid Dickensian flourishes ("Them jam tarts'll need taking out in a minute") that sometimes wander into Drood territory, Clark's characters play fine and psychologically dense games of cat and mouse, some with unlikely set decorations furnished by Buffalo Bill and his immensely popular Wild West Show--not to mention Queen Vicky herself. It makes for a grand adventure, and Clark's novel is so richly textured and detailed that the reader might rightly wish that she return to her former profession as a historian--for a rousing social history of the Victorian era, written to these standards, would be a welcome thing. But given some of her book's subthemes, including the endless tawdriness of Fleet Street and the endless hypocrisy of the social world, that era, as Clark recounts it, seems all too modern. Long, intricate and very well-realized: a page turner for the smart set.
The New York Times Book Review
As in her previous novels, Clark takes real events as her inspiration but allows herself the freedom to invent and embellish. Her historical research is immaculate without being overbearing…As always, Clark doesn't rush through her plot. She develops the story gently, with revelations about Maribel's past folded carefully into scenes from the present, yielding a complex tapestry of tales. A captivating fable of truth and memory, Beautiful Lies speaks to us quietly yet with strength.
From the Publisher
"A stirring and seductive novel."—Economist
"Clare Clark’s fiction manages to maintain historical accuracy even as it indulges in great storytelling and lush prose...a captivating fable of truth and memory, Beautiful Lies speaks to us quietly yet with strength."—New York Times Book Review
"[An] engaging, compulsively readable window into Victorian society."—Library Journal
"An enthralling novel about an elaborate fiction, Beautiful Lies dazzles with its presentations of late Victorian London’s political and social occupations and a remarkable woman with something to hide... An unpredictable, historically authentic take on how we all carry secrets."—Booklist (starred)
Praise for Clare Clark:
"One of those writers who can see into the past and help us feel its texture."—Hilary Mantel, Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall
"As a storyteller, Clark is endowed with verve and intelligence, but her larger gift, dazzlingly in evidence throughout both her fine novels, lies in the originality of her imagination. She gives us a world that feels alive and intense, magnificently raw."—New York Times Book Review
"Clark’s commitment to historical color is matched by the dramatic arc of an engrossing story."
"Clare Clark writes with the eyes of a historian and the soul of a novelist."—Amanda Foreman
"An uplifting and ultimately optimistic tale, as well as being impressively narrated. The historical context is sound, and the plot thoroughly engages the reader. It is based on real figures and their circumstances, which are not widely known. This is a wonderful story; I have read Clare Clark’s previous three novels, all of which have been reviewed by the HNS, and this is by far the best." —Historical Novels Society