Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark

Maribel Campbell Lowe’s Beautiful Lies (by Clare Clark) ensure that she is mysterious to the reader and London society from the beginning, but as the prose unfolds, readers get glimpses into her past as she attempts to navigate her life in the confines of a London society on the verge of change, in which seances and photography are gaining admirers. Married to radical politician Edward Campbell Lowe, Maribel is thrust into a society full of expectation and one that is changing, but her fateful meeting with Alfred Webster, a reporter, could be her family’s undoing.

But the novel also is more about the society around the Lowe’s and the idea of wearing a mask to your family, society, and to some extent to yourself — hiding the truth from even your own consciousness.  Clark blurs the lines between truth and fiction here in the photographs taken and discussed and as Maribel reflects on her past — lamenting tough decisions she made — and assessing her current situation — finding her way in a relationship with a very busy and outspoken politician.

“”It’s a pity you could not be there when Bill took forty of his Indians to the Congregational Chapel at West Kensington,’ Henry said.  ‘That would have made a splendid photograph.  Apparently, they sang “Nearer My God to Thee” in Lakota.’

‘I am not interested in the Indians as curiosities.  If I am to photograph them it should be as they really are.  The truth, not the myth-making.'” (page 173 ARC)

Maribel is an actress of the first order, as are many of the characters in the novel, as they navigate the complexity of their politics and society at a time when the economy is faltering.  They attempt to hang onto anything that appears true and solid, whether it is Buffalo Bill’s traveling show or spirit photography.  Clark offers very detailed accounts of Victorian society from the clothes to the streets and the economic conditions, but she also provides readers with a stimulating atmosphere that also blurs the lines of reality with those of art.  In many ways, her chain-smoking protagonist’s view of the world permeates the novel so well that the story takes on a mysterious lilt, keeping readers in a state of distanced observation that makes it hard to connect with Maribel on an emotional level.

“Beside the tea chest he hesitated, fumbling in his pockets.  There was the rattle of a matchbox and then the scrape and flare of a match.  Shadows leaped from behind the lines of laundry as he lifted the candle to his face.  Beneath the snarl of his eyebrows his sharp eyes flickered like a snake’s.”  (page 1 ARC)

While the details are appreciated about the House of Commons, the rest of Parliament, the economy, the socialist movement, and other goings on of this era, Clark bogs down the narrative at certain points with these details, which keeps the reader at a distance from her character.  While Maribel smokes obsessively and the prose focuses on it obsessively, the character comes off as careless and even boring at times as she waffles between taking action to improve her happiness and wallowing in the past.  With that said, Clark has written an interesting narrative based upon a real-life politician’s wife who led a double life for many years.

Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark is an unique look at Victorian society plagued by hidden scandals and events that are exaggerated so that they become scandalous by newspapers and reporters.  Disappointingly, the novel drops one of the story lines that was originally set up as one of the things that had the potential to bring down the Lowe family.  Rather the scandals involving politicians and upper class activities uncovered by Webster become the crux of the novel, but the solution to the Lowe’s problem of Webster’s vendetta is unique.  Overall, Clark has recreated the world of the late 1800s and touched upon the hidden lives of many members of society and the masks that humanity wears in public and even at home.

About the Author:

Clare Clark is the author of four novels, including The Great Stink, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize and was named a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and Savage Lands, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize in 2010. Her work has been translated into five languages. She lives in London.



This is my 68th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.


To enter to win 1 copy of Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark, please leave a comment below by Sept. 28 at 11:59 PM EST.  You must be a U.S. resident and 18 years or older.



  1. Beautiful Lies, I read too. The writing style, and her narrative drew me in right away. But, I think what drew me in was the mystery . Who was Maribel? There was such build up that I thought there was more to the secrecy. When we do find out who she is. It was not such a big deal, what a let down. The other thing, was there was so many different things going on, between the Wild West Show, Politics, Mystery, Family Dynamics. There was just too, too much. They did connect to the story, but I will tell you it reminded me of going to Raiders of the Lost Ark Movie, with no time to take it all in.

    I am a political person, so I would probably not break open the book. The only reason because I was on the book tour. But, it did make you think of the politics of today, compared to the late industrial age.

  2. I do love the cover but having talked with you over the weekend about it, I’m not sure it’s a book for me.

  3. Anita Yancey says

    Sounds like a wonderful book. I love the title and the cover. Please enter me. Thanks!

  4. I have mixed feelings on if I would like it or not. It sounds very interesting, but I’d have to be in the ‘right’ mood to read it. I agree with one of the previous comments it sounds like the author did do a lot of research. Definitely interested in reading some more reviews of this one. Thanks for your review and a chance to win a copy.

  5. Sounds like the author did a huge amount of research!!

  6. Well this one is definitely not for me. Anytime I see the word politics my mind shuts down. Lol. I love the cover though.

  7. Not so sure about this one but I would be willing to at least try it!

  8. The book sounds fascinating.

  9. I’m sorry that the poetry didn’t play a larger part in the book – I know you would have really appreciated that portion of the story!

    Thanks for being on the tour Serena.

  10. Great review — Clark’s novel about the London sewers was too redolent and real for me to stomach — I think she really enjoys wallowing in unsavory sensory details — at least, that’s what I suspected given the focus on Maribel’s smoking. That, and I suppose all that it implied, given that smoking was looked down upon, etc. As you know, I was wild for this one, but because Maribel worked for me, I didn’t mind all the pages. If she hadn’t, I bet I would have been wildly impatient.

    • I did enjoy the book, but it was not something that wowed me like it did you. I do like the history but I felt like it bogged down the story for me…plus the red herring was too obvious and bothered me when I found out what happens at the end.

  11. This novel sounds fascinating and unique. thanks for this chance.

  12. Beth Hoffman says

    I’ve always been fascinated with the Victorian era, mostly for the architecture, but secondly for the often-twisted proprieties.

  13. Not sure this one is for me. I’ve seen it making the rounds and the reviews are all over the place but I’m not curious enough to pick it up.

    • I thought this was going to be great with the photography and poetry angles, but the poetry is dropped early on along with one of the plot/scandals. The photography stuff was good though, and the historical stuff was good, but I think this 500+ page book needed some editing.

  14. This sounds thought provoking – I think we all put on a facade at times, even to ourselves.


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