Beautiful Lies
Clare Clark
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Buy *Beautiful Lies* by Clare Clarkonline

Beautiful Lies
Clare Clark
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover
512 pages
September 2012
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Beautiful Lies.

Maribel Campbell-Lowe’s existence within the pages of Beautiful Lies gives broad context to Clark’s expose of Victorian life. Maribel loves her Scottish laird, Edward Campbell Lowe--a Radical Liberal MP who seeks to improve the lives of the poor--yet she’s constantly plagued by secrets from a past that may sabotage her marriage. A chainsmoker, an amateur photographer and a poet, Maribel is wise enough to observe that Buffalo Bills’ Wild West is a magnet for Londoners in search of certain escape from their day-to-day struggles.

In Maribel’s life, inspiration is a different distraction. As her story unfolds at a time of when the Queen condemns what she calls “the wicked folly of Women’s Rights,” Maribel leads a mostly privileged life, safely ensconced in the carpeted hush of her Cadogan Gardens flat. Maribel has little room for complaint other than the nagging realization that there is little beauty in politics. Her best friend, Charlotte, worries about her and pities her friend’s childlessness; not even Charlotte could imagine a life without children.

Frankly inexplicable, a fortuitous letter from Maribel’s estranged mother suggests that they meet after thirteen years. While Maribel debates whether to tell Edward, her angst circles around  grim realities. Her despair is punctuated by the notion that, for all this time, she has carried within her the weight “like rocks in her pockets" of her estranged sister, Ida. The dire circumstances that caused the rift beget the contrivance that sets the tone and provides the hook on which the rest of the storyline stands.

In a narrative pockmarked with one historical event after another, the reader is compelled discover what really happened, although Clark’s story becomes a bit tedious in the context of her unfolding social tapestry. Radical in both blood and bones, Maribel wishes that Edward would not make it his business to provoke people so. Most days, they see each other only briefly at breakfast as the riots in Ireland and the strikes in Manchester take up much of his time. While Edward hopes for an eager response to his petitions, his “leftist" provocations are tolerated by his peers only because of his standing as a man of the highest integrity in public life.

Maribel endures him. She pesters Edward for an emancipation from her cosmopolitan prison. Weeks turn into months as she pines for the life she had in Mexico, where she found a hunger and a wantonness she had not known she possessed. When she gets a reply from Colonel Cody telling her he’s delighted to permit her to photograph his Indians, the project reflects Maribel’s passion but also stings her with the bittersweetness of making do. The idea that Ida is nearby settles into Maribel with a violent jolt, almost electrical in force and urgency. Also at issue are the relentless demands of Inverallich, Edward’s grant Scottish Estate. In Scotland, it is not so easy as it is in London for Maribel to close her eyes to their looming financial difficulties.

Maribel certainly fits the bill of a beautiful, romantic, independently spirited Victorian heroine. As her story draws to a close, her voice sings with a strength echoing the voices of the Yorkshire coalminers, who are battling for better working conditions and the trade unions as they march towards Trafalgar Square in a parade that will turn horribly violent. As Maribel’s basic goodness reaffirms itself, a series of dangerous encounters make Edward increasingly exasperated at the ignorance and passivity of the “working man.” Ironically, Edward becomes our cipher to the rise of the modern socialist movement and the poor underbelly of London’s slum populations as they endure sorrow, rage, and frustration bought about by the era’s devastating inequality.

Clark’s depiction of Maribel’s life is grounded in detailed circumstance, but at times her story loses its sharpness and sense of urgency. The author tries too hard to keep the “lady of substance” alive and well under the wraps of the illustrious personage of Edward. Still, Clark presents a full-circle tale that abounds with unknown ripples, indelibly marking the character of Maribel along with her past and her loves.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2012

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