Monday, 1 October 2012

Book Review: ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

It’s not often that I have to re-issue a book three times, after which I have to wait awhile to issue it again as I have exceeded the re-issue limit! This is made even more remarkable in that the book itself is reasonably short – not much more than 300 or so pages. All I can say is that no matter how busy you find yourself, and how little time you have to read, you will find yourself returning again and again to this novel. In fact, I was rather sad after finishing it: it certainly matched this description that I found on Pinterest

Anyway, this book is described as a “Victorian sensationalist novel” and I can certainly see why it earned that description as the novel is filled with suspense and drama, with each chapter ending on a cliffhanger, which makes you want to keep on reading. Lady Audlley’s Secret is the story of an enchantingly beautiful woman who comes to a village and marries Sir Michael Audley, an extremely wealthy man. However, when Sir Michael’s nephew, Robert, comes for a visit with his friend George Talboys, the resulting events change Robert's life forever. George goes missing, and Robert begins a search for his friend that occupies most of the rest of the novel, and he is convinced that Lady Audley is not all that she appears to be. I would say a lot more about the novel, but I shan’t for fear that I will ruin the plot and I do so want you all to read it for yourselves without any spoilers!

What I liked about this novel:
First and foremost, I LOVED the characters! I immediately grew to like Robert Audley as unlike many of the other characters, he felt very real as Mary Elizabeth Braddon emphasised throughout the novel his faults as well as his virtues. This made him very believable to me, and as the story more or less followed his investigation, it became quite clear that while I was learning about Lady Audley, in the process I was also learning a lot about his character, and that some of the initial perceptions I had about him were wrong. By the end of the novel, he truly was an admirable character in my eyes.

It was not only the principle characters that I liked, but also some of the more minor ones. I loved Alicia Audley, as she provided many comical bits in the book by constantly being affronted with Robert for his apparent snubbing of her attentions. She made me smile so much by the way she was shown to be trying to act like an adult whilst really being still a child at heart. Lady Audley’s maid, Phoebe Marks, was also a very interesting character.

What I disliked about this novel:
I do have a few complaints about the novel, however. One is that there were a few times when the Lord’s name was used in vain – which I thought was completely unnecessary. However, there was no other swearing or anything else of that kind, so I believe that this is not so obtrusive that you should avoid reading it altogether. Another complaint I have is that I personally found the plot a bit easy to guess (okay, so Mary Elizabeth Braddon did add a bit of an unexpected twist at the end, but I had the general idea!) so while at first this novel might remind you of an Agatha Christie mystery, do not expect the same level of sophistication in the plot. This did mean that at times I felt like saying to Mary Elizabeth Braddon, “Okay, so I get the picture – now can we move on and have it revealed to the characters?” Having said that, it was this technique of not allowing the characters to understand things as quickly as you did that did help to keep you reading, as you were constantly cheering Robert on. Or, at least, I was! :) 

One other complaint I have is that there were quite a few negative aspects to this novel – such as murder and bigotry, which means that like Agatha Christie novels, I would probably only recommend it for more mature readers – say, 14 years and above (with parental permission of course)! I didn’t like it that at times the idea of revenge seemed to be almost condoned, so when reading, just keep in mind what the Bible really says about these issues. I’m glad that bigotry seemed to be portrayed in a negative light, at least!
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, author of Lady Audley's Secret

Overall, however, I highly recommend this book – though of course it is up to you to decide if you like it as much as me! If you can think of a novel that has the melodrama of an Agatha Christie novel, a Dickensian protagonist (aka Robert!) and some of the themes of Jane Eyre, you pretty much have Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. A must read for anyone like me who adores Victorian literature!

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