Book review: 'Beautiful Lies' by Clare Clark

“Beautiful Lies” by Clare Clark deals with the nature of reality. Is a lie a fact, if we start believing in our own illusions? With her photography, Maribel proves that things are not always as they seem.
BY BETTY LYTLE Published: October 13, 2012
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Clare Clark's “Beautiful Lies” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26) is set in 1887 London. Queen Victoria celebrates her Golden Jubilee, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show comes to town, and economic disparities have protesters camping outside public buildings.

The sale of newspapers becomes more important than truth in the news, with tabloid journalism as a result.

Maribel Campbell Lowe, photographer, the wife of a well-known politician, with several prominent people she counts as friends, claims to be a Chilean heiress, educated in Paris. She is beautiful and self-confident. Truth is, her husband found her in a brothel.

As her husband's career seems to be reaching a critical point, her past is coming back to haunt her. Newspaper editor Alfred Webster is taking an increased interest in her, and she fears he will destroy her husband's reputation as well as her own.

Chain-smoking constantly throughout the story, Maribel uses her photography in a creative way to protect her way of life.

The author's research brings us scenes of 1887 London that are a little like present day. There is an economic crisis and lurid journalism. There are riots, and Trafalgar Square is occupied, with police fighting the protesters.

The character of Edward Campbell Lowe is based on Robert Cunninghame Graham, a radical Scottish aristocrat who became a founder of the Scottish Labour Party, which laid the foundation for the modern day Labour Party in the United Kingdom. Maribel's character was inspired by Graham's wife.

“Beautiful Lies” deals with the nature of reality. Is a lie a fact, if we start believing in our own illusions? With her photography, Maribel proves that things are not always as they seem.

— Betty Lytle