Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Ashford Affair

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Clemmie's life has been turned on its head. Everything she took as a given is slowly being taken away from her. Her Grandmother Addie and her Grandmother's apartment on the Upper East Side have always been a safe haven for Clemmie. Yet Addie hasn't been doing well. Clemmie though has been so busy wrapped up in her own world at her law firm that she doesn't realize time is passing by. Soon it might be too late and there is so much Clemmie hasn't asked or forgot to ask her Grandmother. When the family descend for Addie's birthday party Clemmie's Aunt starts dropping weird hints about a deep dark family secret. A secret that spans Addie's childhood and adolescence in England and then her time in Kenya. Could this secret change Clemmie's entire life?

Booked as Out of Africa meets Downton, I can see the marketing ploy... but The Ashford Affair didn't feel like this to me. For those epics there is a distancing between you and the characters. You feel like an outsider looking in. No matter how much you love and care for Denys Finch Hatton or Lady Mary, you are never part of their story. That's where Lauren shines. She has created characters you connect with in a different way. You become part of their story. Reminiscent of the writing style of Nancy Mitford, as you were sitting in the Hons cupboard listening to Linda recount the love of her life, there you are sitting with Addie as she braves the cold outdoor nightclub as she sees herself losing the love of her life.

While I'm sure there are others out there who would disagree with me, and say the marketing is apt, the thing is I'm an Out of Africa hater, so it's a good thing I didn't see The Ashford Affair as such. Also, as to the Downton angle, yeah, ok, but a lot of people are in "Downton Rage" as I'm calling it because of the Matthew debacle, and Downton doesn't have the constant witty banter and humor that Lauren has brought to The Ashford Affair. Downton is an epic soap opera, even if you are one of those people who didn't realize it as such at first, but how else to categorize a show where the heir goes down in the Titanic in the first episode? I mean, come on people! Downton has a lot going for it, but there's a disconnect between that show and this book. Therefore I am rechristening it Alconleigh to Kenya or possibly, Mitfords meet Clueless... still deciding on that one. Either way, Lauren has created characters who you could see spending time with and having a laugh with (PELT!) and enjoying life, verses the epic heart wrenching day to day life at Downton. Not saying that there aren't times when Lauren is ripping out your heart, she just won't leave you dead in a ditch.

I don't think my "Mitford" interpretation is that far off either. Let's look at the evidence, a Bolter, check, either if based on Idina Sackville, or the fictional Mitford Bolter... which may have been based on Sackville or even on Nancy Mitford's sister Diana, the Bolter is key. The elder sister Dodo, a horse and hounds girl, could that be Debo Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire who likes to write books about her chickens? Then there's Addie... a cousin and an outsider who comes to live in a glorious estate with rather odd relatives while her own parents were in disrepute with the rest of the family, can anyone say Fanny Logan, the narrator of Nancy Mitford's famous trilogy? Lauren herself has said that Nancy's book Wigs on the Green was an inspiration, which was notorious for Nancy's lampooning of her own family and was therefore out of print for many years. Also just the humor fits in more with the Mitfords/Radletts. The scene that brings this out more than any other is when Addie's mouse is set loose by Bea at Dodo's coming out ball. Lauren was able to perfectly recapture a time that, in my mind, was exemplified my Nancy Mitford's writing. Lauren brought that world to life again, and that's a hard feat.

Speaking of time, time is an interesting thing. Though the twenties are a very specific time and place within the last century, it has still developed a timelessness to it. The sepia coloring of passing generations has made it an era we are nostalgic for and romanticize, even though we weren't alive. Maybe that's why we are nostalgic for it, because we didn't live through it. Unlike the late 90s. Having the modern day section set not in the "now" but in the 90s kept drawing me out of the book. Modern references niggled at me and then I was thinking of the weirdest things, like, was their really Lord of the Rings parties in the 90s? I mean, you'd have to be a hard core book nerd to be having the parties, because the first of the movies didn't come out until 2001. In fact, the film had only been filming for two months when the action of this book takes place.

I know this is nit picky, but this is where my mind goes. This is why, while I enjoyed the whole book, the modern sections I was almost skimming. I didn't really care about Clemmie's job travails (another thing, hating the name Clemmie, sounds like the demon Clem from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or phlegm whereas I love the full name Clementine, so just call her by that). Clemmie's job was just a hurtle that kept her from her family, and while it was annoying for her, it was more annoying to me. I know Lauren connects to Clemmie's life of lawyering, I just personally didn't connect. But perhaps I just didn't want to go back to the modern sections of the book because I was reveling in the past. I would have loved it longer and more in depth because I didn't want to leave the past. Not one bit.

One thing can be certain, this book has allayed many worries of mine and I'm sure fears of others. With the inevitable end of Lauren's Pink Carnation series (le sigh) she has proven with The Ashford Affair that she is capable of writing books that I will keep buying. She kept me awake until the wee hours (is that dawn I see?) as I tried to puzzle out the mystery, which I thought I was certain of until, wham. Lauren has definitely got me for the entire span of her literary career, which I wager will be long and fruitful.


This book sounds incredible! I adore historical fiction, so I'm surely going to give this book a try.

Enter the giveaway Giada! You have a VERY good chance of winning right now :)

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