There’s something special about historical fiction when its done right. This genre provides us with a picture into a past that is ultimately foreign to us. And yet there are still some relevant thematic elements in society two hundred years ago that still exist in our modern world.
This book highlights a little bit about the injustice of women, and how their choices in life were limited back in the 1890s. But it merely highlights these issues and doesn’t delve deeper into something that can be applied in today’s social commentary.
Anyway, that is not always the function of historical fiction. Sometimes it is just a mode for us to enjoy a world that is ultimately different than our own. And The English Wife serves this purpose.
Set during America’s Gilded Age, The English Wife opens with the death of Bayard “Bay,” and Annabelle Van Duyvil and soon segways to the past where the pair of them met in London. Told from alternating points of view, with the back story of Bay and Annabelle and then the media circus surrounding their death’s in the present day, we come to understand that their marriage wasn’t as picture perfect as they would have liked everyone to believe.
I enjoyed the complexity and intrigue that was set up initially within this story. I felt like Annabelle’s backstory was particularly interesting, and it wasn’t surprising why Bay married her. During a time when social standing and reputation were worth more than things like happiness and love, both of these characters seek to defy this and carve out their own slice of happiness. Of course, they tragically die attempting to do this.
I also really enjoyed Janie’s character because everyone underestimated her, and thought she was just a dull spinster. I wished her character was flushed out a bit more and given more opportunities to engage in sleuthing as the synopsis suggested. Her ending was a bit rushed as well, which led me to a lower rating.
While the writing was primarily dialogue and character action driven (which I am totally about), there were several allusions dropped in for some kind of effect. The effect was lost on me because I am not widely read in classical plays. So that was disorienting at times. As was the use of the third person, omniscient point of view. Certain things were presented to characters early on in the novel that they suddenly forgot about. This lent itself to a very confusing moment that should have been shocking to us as readers, or seen as the turning point in the novel, but it was not.
This is also a slow read, so if you’re looking for something fast paced this isn’t it. Slow isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you aren’t someone who enjoys slow reads, this could be an issue for you.
Also, another area I have to give the author props in is that I was unable to guess who the killer was because this sets itself up to give many characters motives for wanting Bay and Annabelle dead. I always like being surprised by who the villain ends up being in a good mystery.
All in all, this was a solid entertaining historical fiction novel with a mystery attached to it. I would recommend if you’re into this genre.
What are some other historical titles you enjoy?