Beautiful Lies by Claire Clark

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Beautiful Lies by Claire Clark

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Elegantly written story of Victorian scandal and deceit showing that fear of press exposure is nothing new, and nor is photographic manipulation. Based on real people, almost all of the more extraordinary aspects of this story are based on historical fact.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 500 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099570462

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Clare Clark's Beautiful Lies takes in Royal jubilees, London riots, newspaper editors overstepping the bounds on personal vendettas and political sex scandals - all set in the late 1880s showing how little has changed. There are even early instances and questions over photographic manipulation. Maribel, apparently a Chilean heiress and wife of radical, socialist politician Edward Campbell Lowe, has a past which she has tries to keep buried. If it were to be revealed, both her and her husband would be ruined by the scandal. Making enemies of an unscrupulous and hypocritical newspaper editor might not be the best move then.

Although Clark's historical education is evident in her descriptions and clear love for the Victorian age, she never allows her knowledge of the period to get in the way of the story. Clark has based her characters on real life historical figures and almost all of the details that stretch the imagination most are in fact based on real events and people as she explains in the Author's Note at the end of the story. Don't be tempted to jump ahead and read this before you finish though as there are aspects of reality that can become plot spoilers to the book.

It is Maribel who dominates this tale. Chain smoking her way through life, which at some points seem to be an attempt to hide her past behind a smokescreen while at others an effort to fill the holes in her past with cigarette smoke, she is sparky, brave and often almost as acerbically funny as her acquaintance Oscar Wilde. While many of the lies are hers, particularly concerning her past, the title also refers to the emerging art of photography including its role in the whole seance craze. Some of the lies involved in the story are interesting and strange but the most beautiful of all is saved to the end. Buffalo Bill's Wild West show also features strongly in much of the book, itself a lie, although quite how beautiful that was is highly debatable.

Maribel lives in fear not only of the newspaper editor, Webster, discovering her past but also there are aspects of which her own husband is not aware. However, the secrets and revelations seldom come from where the reader is expecting them to come from.

While the period detail is all there, it is the fascinating story that drives this book and many of the issues covered still have resonance to today. It is elegantly written and Maribel is almost impossible not to like, even when her behaviour is perhaps less than perfect. It's one of those books that it's easy to get completely engrossed in. There's always the tension of secrets being discovered, but there are plenty of unexpected turns along the way and while Maribel may be not be perfect, she may be self-absorbed, but you cannot help but be on her side. Just don't plan on reading this if you are currently giving up smoking!

Our grateful thanks to the kind people at Vintage for sending us this book.

For more historical fiction covering almost the same period, The Streets by Anthony Quinn would make a terrific companion read, while for a more modern fictional take on the threat of media exposure, The Heart Broke In by James Meek is well worth reading.

Buy Beautiful Lies by Claire Clark at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Beautiful Lies by Claire Clark at

Buy Beautiful Lies by Claire Clark at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Beautiful Lies by Claire Clark at


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