Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Title: Lady Audley's Secret
Author: Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Genre: Classics / Mystery
First published: 1862
Pages: 496

Rating: 7 out of 10

For some reason, I wasn't expecting much out of this classic novel, and it sat on my shelves for more than just a few months. However, once I started reading, I couldn't put Lady Audley's Secret down.

A beautiful young woman named Lucy has recently married Sir Michael Audley, a rich older man, and comes to stay at the prestigious Audley Court Manor. Sir Audley's daughter is jealous of her new rival, but everyone else seems fascinated and delighted at the new little mistress.
But when Sir Michael's nephew Robert and his friend George Talboys come to stay, strange things begin to happen.
Talboys mysteriously disappears one day, and no one seems to have the slightest idea where he has gone.
Robert sets out to find him, but the trail that the mystery leads him down becomes increasingly darker and shocking.

Written in 1862, this book was much more lightly written and easy to get through than other contemporary books of that time, such as the works of the Bronte sisters. I noticed this at once, and I found it very entertaining.

The characters of this book are quite well drawn, and it is, not surprisingly, Lady Audley who is most memorable. She is a perfectly beautiful and charming young woman who would have been, in her time, the ideal lady. That is, from an outsider's point of view. As the story progresses, we see that behind her mask of sweetness, she hides a much darker, terrible nature. Braddon gives us clues of this early on, which are not all that difficult to catch. For example, the unfinished painting of her, in which she is depicted as a "beautiful fiend." It seems that the artist who painted Lucy saw beyond her pretty smile and further into her true nature. It is also mentioned that Lucy does not like happy tunes, but rather "somber and melancholy" music. Despite being extremely interesting, however, I left the story still wanting to see a bit more into Lady Audley's darker side. She is not the main character, but rather the villain, so we do not spend so many scenes with her as the title may suggest. We are able to assume her malicious and twisted thoughts, because we learn of her actions. However, I never really 'felt' these crimes enough.

I loved the character of Robert Audley, who is a smooth and normally quite lazy barrister. He seemed arrogant and irritating in the beginning, and I couldn't help but picture him as an older Malfoy (from the Harry Potter books - their characters follow me no matter what I read!). However, by the end of the book, he had become a very likable character. If a book must have a main character, it would certainly be Robert, and most of the book follows his actions as he searches for his friend. His relentless loyalty to George Talboys was admirable, and the manner in which he deals with his discoveries is thoughtful to his uncle while still seeking justice.

The pacing of this book was well done and made it easy to continue reading. Short chapters were normally left off in cliff-hangers, since the story was first published in serial form.

I loved the chilly Gothic elements to this book, described just as Gothic passages should be - dark, foreboding, mysterious, with just a touch of strange beauty.
The descriptions of the Audley manor were my favorite, and I really got a sense of the setting. What better house for this mystery than a very old, oddly built mansion with secret passageways?

If you are one of those people who loves trying to figure out the outcome of a mystery before the detective does - look no further. You will definitely be able to quickly realize the culprit here, as the author makes it quite obvious.
However, for this particular story, it worked, and never affected my interest in the plot.
Though it is obvious who is responsible for George's disappearance, and why, we are still left wondering about how.
In a way, knowing before Robert does makes the story even more engaging. I felt as if I had seen the end of a movie and now decided to watch the rest of it. I knew what would happen, but I wanted to see how the characters would make the discovery.

This book certainly exceeded my expectations, and I am looking forward to discovering more of Braddon's work.