Plot/Idea: This is an accomplished historical fiction novel that will enthrall readers. The sweeping plot alternates primarily between New York and London in the late 19th century, spotlighting the role of women in a broader historical context while offering readers an engrossing tale of romance, social maneuvering, and intrigue.
Prose: Hayes writes with eloquence, delivering nimble prose that dances across the pages and will leave readers longing for more. The dialogue is snappy and a perfect match for the book’s time period.
Originality: Though the story ties in several familiar elements, Hayes does so in a refreshing way that makes this novel a consummate achievement. The plot blasts through well-known barriers for women with its exceptional protagonists, while keeping the characters’ outcomes relevant—albeit heartbreaking in places—to the book’s setting.
Character/Execution: The two main protagonists are sisters, Tennie Claflin and Vicky Woodhull, with famous characters sprinkled throughout the tapestry of their lives. Both sisters are entertaining and completely captivating, each with a fully developed history that intertwines with the story’s events, and the supporting cast is rousing, to say the least. Vicky’s work as a suffragist, Tennie’s clairvoyance, and the manner in which both go about their daily lives in 19th-century New York and London is absolutely magnetic.
Date Submitted: August 25, 2023
Well Dressed Lies is a novel set in 1877 London, where two retired suffragists are seeking husbands and shelter from the lies which drove them from New York to build new lives abroad. In hiding from their shady pasts, Victoria and Tennessee believe they have safely transitioned to new lives until romance and discovery threaten their safe haven with new revelations.
Carrie Hayes employs the first person in a well-aimed bludgeon of self-analysis and intrigue which marries the dual approaches to love and fate in a compelling, brutally honest manner:
"What was I doing? Were we just hedonists, or were we indeed starting over? Was James Gordon Bennett what I wanted? Or was it my own bungling desire simply to be wanted myself?"
Forced to adapt to new customs and culture, including those dictating flirting, romance, and love, the two already-strong women find their expectations, secrets, and destinies challenged by events that follow the kinds of patterns and adversity they created for themselves in America.
As Hayes unfolds a virtual Peyton Place of layers of interconnected realizations and challenges, readers will enjoy and appreciate her unique writing style that elevates the plot beyond any expectation of a traditional romance, historical fiction work, or political examination of the times.
Shifting timelines and perspectives enhance the complexity and allure of the people and places captured in the story as novelist Henry James both observes the world around him with a literary eye and navigates the unfamiliar waters of women who display unpredictable countenances.
Faith, science, and royalty collide in a story that spins a yarn of well-worn and well-devised lies all around as the characters dance around their pasts, culture, and expectations of the future.
The cast of characters Hayes outlines before the story begins may feel daunting, displaying its foundations in American and British culture, but proves an easy reference to understanding the changing perspectives and cultural intersections which are one of the highlights of this story.
The marriage of intrigue, adversity, social revolution and shifting moral and ethical boundaries creates a multifaceted read that is delightful in its bounce between cultures and character insights.
Perhaps one reason why the descriptions feel exceptionally vivid is that they are grounded in real people and facts, which receive embellishment and enlightenment from the marriage between fiction and nonfiction elements.
The result is an inviting novel of intrigue, mischief, and love that invites libraries and readers to partake of a story replete in changing alliances, closely-held secrets, and social change that romps through high society relationships on both sides of the pond.