Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig (2015)

Rachel is an English governess looking after the children of the wealthy in France. She is situated in an uncomfortable position in the household: betwixt and between, she is neither upstairs nor downstairs. One day she receives a telegram informing her her mother is very sick and urging her to return to England. When her employer refuses to give her time off she quits and leaves immediately, only to arrive home to find out her mother has died of influenza and already been buried. Rachel is heartbroken; her father died when she was a small child and her mother was the only family she had. Even worse, her mother's landlord is evicting her, leaving Rachel unemployed, homeless and with only four days to pack up the house and leave with the few mementos of her parents she has: her mother's piano and her father's chess set.

Exhausted from her travels and devastated by the news, Rachel curls up on her mother's bed, taking comfort from a ritual from her childhood where she would climb into bed with her mother for reassurance. While in bed, something crinkled beneath her fingers. It was a page torn from an expensive magazine, the type her mother never read. On the page, her father's face stared up at her, much older than she remembered, next to a young woman. The caption underneath the photo read "Lady Olivia Standish, escorted by her father, the Earl of Ardmore". Rachel's father was alive, and not who she thought he was.

Rachel dashes to Oxford, to see her only remaining relative, a distant cousin David. She confronts him with the article and he confesses that he and her mother have known the truth all along. Distraught, she flees David's office. David sends one of his former students, Simon Montford, to follow her. Simon, like Rachel's father, is part of the aristocracy, and he knows Rachel's father and his other family well. Between them, they hatch a plan: Rachel will pose as a distant cousin to Simon. Through his connections, she will gain entry into London society and, somehow and somewhere, meet her father again.

The Other Daughter is set in the 1920s in England. It was a time of great change for the country: the Bright Young Things were breaking down conventions and scandalising conservatives while England has a whole was dealing with the aftermath of the Great War and the devastating effect it had on all social classes. I loved the '20s moments, like the two Evelyns canoodling in the corner of a nightclub and the too laugh-provoking language. The tales of fun and champagne were interpersed with moments of genuine pathos and, underlying it all, the search for Rachel's history and truth about her past. I enjoyed this book from start to finish and would readily recommend it for anyone who wants a good historical romantic read. Four stars.

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