cover image Beautiful Lies

Beautiful Lies

Clare Clark. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (512p) ISBN 978-0-15-101467-5

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.)