book review: The English Wife by Lauren Willig

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THE ENGLISH WIFE by Lauren Willig
★★★★☆
St. Martins’ Press, January 9, 2018

If I were prone to feeling guilt over enjoying the things I enjoy, I would classify this as a guilty pleasure book. This is more a nineteenth century soap opera of a novel than a literary gothic mystery, so you’ll do well to check those expectations of a second coming of Rebecca at the door before starting The English Wife. But I have no reservations at all saying that I loved this.

Sure, the writing is occasionally sophomoric; characters let out breaths they didn’t realize they’d been holding; the word ‘belied’ is used approximately eight thousand times; the dialogue is often trite and heavy-handed, but for whatever reason, I found myself not caring. I was swept away by this incredibly well-crafted mystery that blends suspense and romance with the vibrant atmospheres of Victorian England and Gilded Age New York.

The novel begins at a ball in upstate New York in 1899, when wealthy socialite Bayard van Duyvil is found with a knife in his chest, and his wife, Annabelle, has vanished, presumed dead. There are two point of views in this book – that of Bay’s wife, in flashbacks, and his sister, Janie, in the present. Both were compelling heroines who I found myself rooting for wholeheartedly. This is the kind of book where every character has secrets, and uncovering them all is a highly entertaining process. Some of the twists are excellent, others are rather predictable, but it’s an undeniably twisty ride from start to finish. And getting to the bottom of the identity of the novel’s central character, Annabelle, was the most compelling element for me.

Bottom line: this book was fun and enthralling enough to compensate for its many flaws. Highly recommended for anyone looking for somewhat mindless Victorian escapism.

I chose this book as my December Book of the Month selection.  If you’re interested in checking out this great subscription service, feel free to use my referral linkThe English Wife will be published on January 9, 2018.

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