Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret is a Victorian sensation novel by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It is about Lady Audley, a beautiful lady residing with her wealthy husband at Audley Court. In addition to her material wealth, Lady Audley also has a wealth of secrets. She challenges the notion of stereotypical femininity, and her brother-in-law, Robert Audley, gradually begins to suspect all is not right at Audley Court.

Reader, I liked it.

As a late Victorian novel, the language is not too dissimilar to modern language and so was fairly easy to read.

There were plenty of plot twists that prompted me to work out various marriage connections and secret identities. However, some of the bigger secrets became apparent rather early on – perhaps this was intentional – but it made me dually satisfied to see Robert Audley discover clues and exasperated he didn’t realise sooner what was obviously going on.

Lady Audley’s Secret foregrounds the Victorian pragmatism of marriage. Throughout the novel, male characters encouraged women to choose a marriage partner they deeply loved – as if it were that simple. Given the Victorian restrictions on a woman’s independence and finance, they relied on good husband for security, which is exactly what Lady Audley did.

However, though I really liked Lady Audley’s cunning and atrocious schemes, by marrying well, she becomes protected by her position and the manipulative hold she has over her older, richer (and oblivious) husband.

This reflects how the upper-classes could avoid punishment – or even any ‘disgrace’ – if they had sufficient status and wealth, whereas the lower-classes would be imprisoned immediately. In turn, this suggests money and status make you above or outside the law, – something still wholly relevant today.

Spoiler Warning: I try to keep my reviews mostly spoiler-free. From here on in, this is an exception. Sorry.

Despite my enjoyment of the villainous actions and maliciousness of Lady Audley, she is  eventually robbed of her agency.

 ‘George Talboys had been cruelly and treacherously murdered’

As it happens, Lady Audley hadn’t actually murdered George Talboys, contradicting her characterisation as a scheming, dangerous woman. Plus, the involvement of lower class characters within this plotting then reinforces the stereotype that the lower-classes are the true criminals after all.*

* I made a similar point discussing this with Sherlock Holmes last year.

To me, the ending was also wrong. Most characters received a conventional “happy ending”. Fair enough, though it seems contrite within the context of all the shocking sensationalism prior. Lady Audley however, dies naturally in a ‘madhouse’ in Belgium. There’s no trial, no exposure, and no punishment – except arguably the loss of her position. Everything is kept secret or attributed to Lady Audley’s supposed ‘madness’.

I don’t believe Lady Audley was in any way mad; I think she was a rational, cold-hearted woman who used despicable crimes to better her status. Yet of course, these facts are ignored because of that key word: woman.

‘To call them the weaker sex is to utter a hideous mockery. They are the stronger sex, the noisier, the more persevering, the most self-assertive sex.’

Given the rigidity of Victorian stereotypes, no one thought a woman could be capable of anything more dangerous than cross-stitching.  This is partly what takes Robert Audley so long in his investigation; he can’t (or doesn’t want to) face the prospect that is sister-in-law could be capable of such deeds. But then again, given she doesn’t actually murder George Talboys, perhaps Lady Audley isn’t capable after all, and thus the Victorian stereotypes are reinforced.

Some others may die at her hands. But enough spoilers.

If I haven’t completely ruined the book for you, then you should read Lady Audley’s Secret.

– Judith


Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express

At midnight, the famous Orient Express train is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, one of the passengers is dead – stabbed a dozen times. Isolated by a storm and with a killer onboard, detective Hercule Poirot must find the culprit.

The newest film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 murder mystery novel was released in UK cinemas in 3rd November 2017, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot.

My Photo [Murder on the Orient Express]

I read Murder on the Orient Express for the first time around this time last year, and although I wrote notes, I never published a book review. However, after seeing the film adaptation last week, I thought it an appropriate time to revisit my notes and finally write a book review.

I really, really liked this book.

I haven’t read much by Agatha Christie, but I found her writing style surprisingly easy to read, which was a great way into the story.

Murder on the Orient Express is the first Poirot story I’ve ever read, though it’s the tenth published by Christie.

He is quirky and clever, drawing on stereotypes introduced by characters like Sherlock Holmes, such as the extraordinarily talented and secluded intellectual. Poirot, however, whilst he prefers solidarity, integrates with society in a polite and courteous manner and, to the best of my knowledge, does not struggle with an opium addiction. For these reasons, I enjoyed Poirot’s character more than Sherlock, and I liked reading Poirot work his way to conclusions.

I liked the mix of lots of characters, all trapped in one singular place, who all had different stories and personalities, and yet Poirot was able to find various connections between them in interesting and subtle ways.

Film Comment: I think this subtlety was lost somewhat when translated to the big screen, in the process of condensing the narrative into a just under 2-hour film.

My Photo [Murder on the Orient Express 2]

I thought the book was satirical, particularly in the interactions between Hercule Poirot, and his friend M. Bouc. This satire was carried across to the film, albeit in different ways.

In the book, Bouc is aware of the stereotypical methods of looking for clues, and subsequently thinks almost every object on the train is a clue. Undoubtedly, this is the approach the “untrained” mind – the mind of the reader – would take; Poirot satirises this with quips directed at Bouc, and instead leads the reader’s attention to the tiniest and seemingly most insignificant details, which are the most telling.

The final reveal of the culprit surprised me, challenging my own theories I’d created in my head and making me think in different ways.

Minor Spoiler: There was a reluctance to condemn the act of murder, because of the reason it was committed. I think murder is murder, and if we begin to justify some murder over others, regardless of intentions or motivations, it creates a risky, slippery slope of vigilante justice. Admittedly though, this frustration was admittedly drawn out more by the film adaptation.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I really liked the newest film adaptation as well; Branagh captured the character of Poirot well, and the cinematography was visually stunning. I recommend both!

News of a second Poirot film with Kenneth Branagh, an adaptation of Death on the Nile, is already spreading. If this is the case, I can’t wait to read Death on the Nile next.

– Judith

Book Review: Find Her

‘”This is all of Flora, finally waking up.”‘

Find Her is a thriller by Lisa Gardner, and the eighth novel in her Detective D.D. Warren series.

Seven years ago, Flora Dane was kidnapped whilst on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure. Now, other women have gone missing and when Flora herself disappears, D.D. realises a far more sinister predator is out there, and it is up to D.D. to Find Her.

I read Find Her after a recommendation, so I had no idea that this was part of a series. Fortunately, for the most part, this didn’t affect my reading experience and I think Find Her works well as a standalone thriller. My one comment is that there was limited characterisation of D.D, but, in all honesty, this didn’t bother me. This is the eighth book featuring D.D. and so Gardner probably imagined her readers knew plenty about her already. Furthermore, I preferred reading about the character of Flora; she is a fascinating woman shaped and changed by severe trauma and dramatic experiences.

The narrative switches between different perspectives of Flora – “past” Flora is narrated in flashbacks and “present” Flora is narrated in real-time – as well as between the perspective of D.D. This was a great technique, although it initially took me a while to adjust to, and I began the novel a little confused at what was going on.

The switching perspectives of Flora linked her past experience to her present experience, exemplified by using similar language in each narrative, creating enjoyable and significant parallelism, rather than monotonous repetition.

At times though, the writing felt a little stereotyped, because although it was language one would expect in a crime thriller or murder mystery, it didn’t feel natural. However, for the most part, I was completely engrossed by the writing and the story and I read Find Her in just a few days.

I really enjoyed the drama throughout the book, and the ending was very powerful. Despite the victims of Find Her being female, it didn’t feel like a clichéd “damsel in distress” narrative, which I thought was great, and instead the narrative was raw and emotional and held the right pace.

I strongly recommend Find Her; I enjoyed it so much, I may even read it again!

– Judith