Lauren Willig-The Other Daughter

Themes Explored: romance, identity, self-discovery, self-reliance, British aristocracy, familial relations, mystery, deception, male-female relationships, love, mother-daughter relations, daughter-father relations, family dynamics, journalism, starting over, facades, sibling relationships, roaring 1920s culture, new identity, forgiveness, letting go, moving on

Synopsis: Raised in a poor yet genteel household, Rachel Woodley is working in France as a governess when she receives news that her mother has died, suddenly. Grief-stricken, she returns to the small town in England where she was raised to clear out the cottage and finds a cutting from a London society magazine, with a photograph of her supposedly deceased father dated all of three month before. He’s an earl, respected and influential, and he is standing with another daughter-his legitimate daughter. Which makes Rachel not legitimate. Still reeling from the death of her mother, and furious at this betrayal, Rachel sets herself up in London under a new identity. There she insinuates herself into the party-going crowd of Bright Young Things, with a steely determination to unveil her father’s perfidy and bring his-and her half-sister’s-charmed world crashing down. (Adapted from Goodreads)

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Review: Lauren Willig is one of my favorite modern authors. She went to Harvard and took history classes in order to write historically accurate romance novels. Since graduating from Law School, she has published the 12 book long Pink Carnation Series and three standalone novels, with another one coming soon! All of her books are “light” romances, she focuses on actual authentic relationships over carnal passion. And her novels all embody the spirit of the specific time period of the narrative. Her characters are relatable and witty. The Other Daughter is Willig’s third standalone novel and is set in the 1920s. It is also her first novel that is not a split narrative. The narrative is easy to follow and not overly complicated.

The Other Daughter follows the adult life of Rachel Woodley. She was raised by her widowed mother in genteel poverty in an English Village. For the past six years Rachel has worked as a nursery governess in France. When her mother unexpectedly dies, Rachel returns to clean out the cottage. While undergoing this task she stumbles upon a scrapbook full of clippings from the London society pages, all containing pictures of her supposedly dead father. He is an Earl, socially prominent, and has a whole other family. Rachel’s cousin confirms the truth, her father is alive with a legitimate and acknowledged family. Which makes Rachel not legitimate and her entire past is a life is a lie. Still reeling from her mother’s unexpected death, Rachel enters into an uneasy alliance with the smart talking Simon. With his help Rachel creates a new identity and attempts to bring her father’s glittering life crashing down.

Rachel starts out the story as a woman bent on revenge and ends up finding redemption. Willig is a wonderful storyteller and does a great job setting up Rachel’s frame of mind. It is believable that Rachel would be indignant at her father’s betrayal. She is stricken and angry, especially when confronting memories of a loving father who supposedly died years earlier.  Due to being the main character, she is the most developed. I appreciated the internal struggle she experienced after meeting with her father’s other family. On one hand she deeply resents her father for abandoning her and wants revenge; on the other she genuinely likes her half-sister and is conflicted about indicating her in a scandal. Based upon her upbringing, Rachel makes the right decision at the end of the narrative.

Simon is quite caustic and speaks in a drawling manner. However, he is more than just a hedonist Bright Young Thing looking for the next party. He has a wicked dry wit and has a retort for everything. Most of the time he helps Rachel learn the code, slang, private jokes, nicknames, and attitudes of the glamorous set. I wished Simon had some better character development. Willig gives enough details to make him interesting but not memorable. He reads a lot like most of her other male characters. Though he was a good foil to Rachel’s more rugged approach to life. Simon was a compelling character but I finished the book wanting to know more about him. He suffers from self-loathing, disillusionment, and failed dreams. But this dissatisfaction only surfaces towards the end of the narrative and delays his character development for too long.

The narrative starts off slowly but this was with good reason. Before jumping into the high life of London, Rachel had to be established as a working class girl trying to make the most of a hard life. However, the truth behind her birth causes her to question everything her mother ever told her. As she climbs up the social ladder, Rachel realizes that sometimes glamor is just a fancy way to hide emptiness. All the main characters in the novel carry some deep dark burden that comes to light.  This is true in reality as well. Everybody has some secret they would rather not have come to light, but it always does. Rachel was not actually Simon’s cousin. Simon is more than he appears. There is more to Cece than constant parties. Even the Earl carries his own share of burdens, along with a healthy dose of English pride.

With the exception of That Summer, Willig sets her standalone novels in the 1920s. As such, she excels at bringing the roaring twenties to life through details descriptions of clothing, culture, and seemingly never-ending parties. Underneath all the glamour is a feeling of dissatisfaction and disillusionment that everyone tries to hide with a constant parade of cocktails. All of these underpinnings peek out of the narrative via dialogue and setting. The result is a thoroughly believable narrative set in a time period vividly brought to life. This is a nice book to read on a rainy day. Willig transports her reader back to a time period that seems long ago but still relatable.

The Other Daughter, St Martin’s Press, 2015, ISBN 9781250056283

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