Published by HARVILLE SECKER
Publication date: June 7th 2012
Set in late 1800s England, Beautiful Lies is the story of Maribel Campbell Lowe and her husband, Liberal MP, Edward Campbell Lowe. The story follows Edward’s mission to bring economic relief to the working classes in England who, at that time, are in the midst of massive poverty and joblessness. This part of the story is clearly defined and well thought out. Clare Clark has done her research and recreates the political and social climate in great detail. However, the main plot is that of the beautiful, mysterious Maribel and the secrets of her past and there things go awry. It is made clear early on that whatever Maribel hides could be disastrous if discovered but once the secrets are known to the reader the plot splinters and any potential tension is lost. Instead, Clark veers off into Maribel’s attempts to recapture her relationship with a sister she hasn’t seen in decades, her growing love of photography, and a journey to Spain to discover a gold mine. This meandering is numbing and means this reader, at least, lost interest. One never gets the sense of anything real about Maribel, aside from her devotion to her husband and her absolute, all-consuming obsession with smoking. Clark’s descriptive talents soar in describing how inhaling a cigarette is almost a religious act for Maribel and one she indulges in in almost every scene in the book. Cigarettes make her weak in the knees and allow her to breathe freely (?). Yes, a woman smoking at the time was new and shocking but this does not even evoke that feeling—it just feels overwrought and odd, as if this is a treatise on the joys of smoking as opposed to a work of fiction.
Beautiful Lies is a careful retelling of real-life events and people and there Clark excels. Her research and knowledge mean the book reads like an accurate and interesting depiction of the times. What it does not do, is sustain momentum. The plot is fractured and many plot points fall away without resolution. Maribel’s secrets and lies, while they have the potential to create drama, do not.