“The Other Daughter” by Lauren Willig is part historical novel, part mystery, with a tinge of romance. Throughout the novel World War I is the shadow that follows all the characters. The plot encompasses the changing roles of society, how social structures are collapsing with the goal to escape by partying hard and living the fast life.
Throughout the story is the mystery of unraveling secrets, deceits, and drama. The main character, Rachel Woodley, while working as a governess in France, receives news that her mother has died. While cleaning out the cottage she finds a magazine photograph of her supposedly deceased father, and discovers he is the Earl of Ardmore, who is very much alive. Thus begins her shocking discovery that she is not who she thought she was and that her entire existence is a sham. She is humiliated by the thoughts of being his illegitimate daughter and that everything she thought she knew about her past is a lie, even her surname. Shocked, hurt, and furious Rachel assumes a new identity to confront her father. Originally seeking revenge she decides to enlist the help of a gossip columnist, Simon Montfort, to expose the Earl and ruin his reputation. Simon helps her gain entry to some of London’s most coveted social events while creating a new identity, an alter ego named Vera.
“I thought about the idea, what would it be like if someone finds their father is a different person than the one they knew,” Willig said. “How would it feel to suddenly have your underpinning taken away with all the memories turned into something false? I am fascinated with the idea that we do not really know all about those close to us. We think we know our parents, but that is based on a perception of our own interactions. We make up our own myths of those around us based on our own needs, desires, and frustrations. It is almost like turning a blind eye, accepting what we know on the surface. Rachel’s family was considered respectable because her late father was an Oxford man. But when she found out her true identity, even though part of her blood was blue, she is no longer considered gentry.”
The characters are well developed. One of the most powerful parts of the book is when the author addresses shell shock and how it affected those returning from the war, including emotional breakdowns and suicide. Readers must journey back in time to understand how plausible it would have been for someone to assume another identity without being found out. People will also go through many of the same emotions as the characters as they suffer loss, grief, and betrayal.
The plot also has many humorous moments. Especially when Simon and Rachel debate the barrier that exists between the English aristocracy and someone in Rachel’s class, living a propriety life in a genteel household. The witty banter between them is very enjoyable. Readers see Rachel as funny, intelligent, bold, and genuine.
Because she feels the period after World War I is the origins of the modern socialite, Willig told of her desire to “compare the lifestyle of the aristocracy to todays. We shifted from them to celebrities. People read and speculate about the affluent lifestyles. The class barriers of the 1920s were permeable. I am always interested in the way class works and the subtle contradictions. People wanted to know about the balls and what the upper class were doing.”
Willig’s next book also has a realistic heroine involved in a mystery. The plot has her trying to find out what happened to her brother and his wife, was it a murder/suicide? She enlists the help of a journalist to solve this crime that takes place in New York during the Gilded Age. Willig noted, “I grew up reading mysteries so my books have that component. I believe you are whom you read. I like to construct my plots around an essential mystery that must be solved for the characters to move forward.”
As with all her books Willig allows the people to explore the era she writes about. With “The Other Daughter” readers will enjoy an engaging and engrossing story surrounded by intriguing characters.