REVIEW: The English Wife by Lauren Willig
From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and murder.
Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor house in England, they had a fairytale romance in London, they have three-year-old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and named it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to try to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?
Dear Ms. Willig,
Truth be told, I sort of skimmed the blurb when I saw this book on offer. What I did see was your name as the author and that did it for me – had to request it and was happy to be approved to read it. That was a few months ago and I hadn’t read anything more about it since nor did I review the blurb. I just jumped in. After finishing it, I’m glad I handled it that way and didn’t read any other reviews or opinions. I’m also glad I refrained from peeking at the ending.
As the book got going, I was briefly alarmed. Wait, what? The main thing is happening right at the beginning? Okay, then what’s the rest of the book going to be about? Well, I soon learned. There are two timelines going on here and we’ll alternately learn about both of them. But I’m not going to spoil that.
The characters are fantastic to read. Not because they’re all wonderful people – some of them are shits. But because they’re different and each has strengths and weaknesses. No one is all good and even the villains have their moments. I was kept guessing at motives and there are scads of red herrings. Did this person do this and why? Or was it that person for a totally different reason? What’s behind this character’s actions and how will this plot thread be resolved? I honestly didn’t know and that was part of the enjoyment the book gave me.
I do urge people to just let the book happen. There are twists and turns. There is great wealth and the scars of poverty. There are golden people upon whom the sun appears to always shine and the quiet ones no one notices. There is truth, there are lies, there is murder and a search for justice. As one character warns another – when you demand the truth, be prepared for what else will appear. No one is as they appear in public and sometimes digging will turn up ugliness or at the very least things you might not be prepared to accept.
If pressed, I’d say this is more a murder mystery with a dollop of Gothic tossed in at the end. The last 150 pages sped by in a blur though the first 100 or so ambled along. I also felt that two characters didn’t get what they deserved though for polar opposite reasons. There are romances and there is tragedy. In the end, the truth does come out and, along with other characters, I’m glad. With a little more romance and a little less bittersweet, I would have opted for a higher grade. B