Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lady Audley's Secret

Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1837-1915)

This thing is classified as a "Sensational Novel," because it centers on a something sensational and it was written between 1850-1880 in Great Britain. So pretty much every novel during that period. Now you'll have to excuse me because I read this book a few weeks ago so this review is going to be quick and dirty. Lady Audley marries Sir Michael Audley and everything seems to be fine. Lady A was a servant girl who married the much older man and moved in with him and his 20 year old daughter. Even though there's tension between Lady A and her new daughter-in-law everything is going pretty well until Robert Audley, nephew of Sir Michael, meets his old army buddy George Talboys. Now George has been in Australia hunting gold for three years because his life sucked before that being married and poor with a kid. George didn't go on this trip the most noble way, abandoning the family in the middle of the night and hoping to strike it rich and return to them.
This book really is a pretty good mystery so I don't want to give away too much plot, so a few words about style and themes. Lady A's Secret moves along at a pretty swift clip and has one great character. Robert Audley is a super lazy lawyer. He doesn't really practice law and most people think he's dumb. Luckily he's not dumb, he just enjoys an idle lifestyle. The mystery that pops up around George Talboys, Lady A. et. al. spurs him into action. Being constantly underestimated works out to his advantage as he turns into a private detective.
Lots to think about as far as gender and identity here. Lady Audley has been treated really badly in her past, she's taken matters into her own hands and has ended up in a great situation with Sir Michael. Does she get a standing ovation? Nope, just a one way ticket to the looney bin. Does her agency warrant such a fate? She is strong and determined, but she is also manipulative and dishonest. George Talboys is a real a-hole, he ditches his family and parties in Australia for three years before cashing in and heading home, expecting everything to be cool with the wife. The rest of the characters in the book seem to think his actions are fine. Lady Audley does some things that probably aren't as bad as George and she's shipped up to a nut house on the continent. It was good to see that Braddon didn't neuter her as a character, Lady Audley stayed as defiant and tough right to the end.

Rating 8.5/10: Good mystery, great characters in Robert and Lady A, some interesting themes and exciting writing.

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