It’s always a good day when you get a book in the mail. Even better when it’s an ARC you receive in exchange for a review. And on top of a free book, it’s a free Lauren Willig book! I’ve read two of Willig’s books, That Summer and The Ashford Affair, both of them stand alone books like The Other Daughter. Willig is probably best known for her Pink Carnation series, which I haven’t read.
And, to be honest, I would totally pay for The Other Daughter. It was a great read, as I found That Summer and The Ashford Affair to be as well. But let me back that up with some proof!
Rachel Woodley, 27 years old, is a governess working for the families of 1926 France. She’s called home to a small town in England when word comes that her mother is ill with the Spanish Influenza. Upon her return, she finds she’s too late to say goodbye or even attend the funeral. She believes she’s alone in the world since her father dies when she was four. Through a series of events, she discovers that her father is, in fact, alive and well. Oh, and an earl. She is angry at the betrayal her father committed and the new family he established. Thus begins Rachel’s “stunt” in London, taking on the persona of Vera and trying to determine if revenge should be exacted upon her father and his new family. What will she do and can she maintain her integrity through the process?
From the beginning I noted Willig’s ability to place our feet in two different worlds. As with those who read any literature written in or about the 1920s will know, it was a time of great fluctuation. The First World War decimated a generation of men and women. The social structures are collapsing. Excess and escape are the goal. Willig’s use of short sentence structures and prose moves the plot along at a steady pace. It’s reminiscent of the music and literature of the time.
Willig made me feel the struggle for meaning in the 1920s anew with Rachel’s transition from Victorian-era governess to party girl of London society. Rachel’s battle throughout the book is to find who she will be in this new social structure. Her struggle, while totally believable in the setting of 1926, is something I identified with as a woman in the early 21st century. Striking out on your own and finding a way to get the education you need. Finding a balance between being a strong female, yet maintaining a sense of yourself.
The theme of memory was intriguing throughout Rachel’s story. As expected, when Rachel’s life is turned upside down by the discovery her father is alive and has a whole life she never knew about, she begins to question the memories of her early life and the life her mother built after her father’s alleged death. Through the middle of the book Rachel allows her grasp of memory to grow hazy. She embraces the “escape through excess” mentality as she searches to figure out where it leaves her. The resolution of this is to take her past for what it is and build a new future that is her own.
The highlight of The Other Daughter though is the relationship that builds between Rachel and her Pygmalion, Simon. The witty repartee and tension between the two is fascinating. Willig does a fantastic job creating a twisty path to the end of the book.
And the end? So very satisfying. The Other Daughter is a great read from an author with a great track record.
Interested in other 1920s reads? Dollface by Renee Rosen is great. Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn is magical.