Publication date: January 9th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
At a time when much of my reading seems centered on dystopia, trauma, or pathos it’s welcome to read a novel that is simply enjoyable. No hard thinking or difficult emotions to process, just a well-constructed story that you can settle into. It isn’t as easy as it sounds because often this kind of book can be badly written or just written without enough thought and so has gaps and issues that a picky reader like me can pull apart. Thankfully, Lauren Willig is an author who gets it. Her latest novel, The English Wife, is set in the 1890s and is the story of one of those prefect couples who have everything—love, adorable children, and more money than they know what to do with. Annabelle is an English aristocrat and Bayard is as close as Americans get to aristocracy. His people were already having cocktails on the verandah when the Mayflower pulled into port. It’s all oh-so lovely until Bayard is found with a knife in his chest at the couple’s housewarming gala for their newly built mansion.
Annabelle and Bay may be at the center of The English Wife, but it is Bay’s elitist, icy mother who insists on being at the center of their lives. Everyone’s lives. She is the epitome of snobbery and as Bay is her only son and heir to the family’s fortune his marrying an English wife is seen as appropriate in her eyes. But how would she feel, now that her son is dead, if she knew Annabel may not be who she says she is? And so, with bewitching rapidity, the secrets start to reveal themselves and no one, in the present or the past, is happy about it.
That’s about all I’m going to tell you about The English Wife. Suffice it to say, it’s all about the plot and there’s plenty of it, but if you know me, you know I cannot stand plot overload. It has to be handled properly and Willig does. The narrative is split between the time when Bay and Annabelle met and fell in love in London to New York after Bay’s death. She dovetails the two timelines carefully so details appear when needed without being fanciful or overdone. She also throws in an important twist that I did not see coming. If it sounds too twee or cozy, it’s not. At the same time, it’s not a novel that is going to change your perceptions or evoke great bursts of emotion. It is exactly what I needed, an entertaining respite from heavy reading.