The Other Daughter
I love heroines who display spirit, backbone and intelligence with ease and elegance. That’s exactly what happened in this novel and I found myself completely enthralled by the story as a result.
Rachel Woodley is working as a governess in Paris when the telegram reaches her: “Mrs. Woodley ill. Influenza. Immediate return advised,” it reads simply. But there is nothing simple about it. As a single mother, Katherine Woodley had given everything to her daughter. The thought of her suffering through such serious illness alone is unbearable to Rachel and she determines to request leave to go home immediately. The situation is especially urgent because a vicious co-worker, determined to revenge himself for having his advances spurned, held on to the telegram for five long days before forwarding the message on to Rachel.
Which is why after traveling all night to get back to England Rachel returns to find her mother dead and buried. And the hits just keep on coming. Her employer had fired her for daring to want to take leave without notice so she is jobless. The landlord has terminated the rental agreement since her mother didn’t pay the rent during the week she was dying, so she is also homeless.
Seeking comfort, Rachel goes to her mother’s room and is stunned to find a glossy page from a gossip magazine under the pillow. Even more startling is the fact that the picture on the page is of her father, who supposedly died when Rachel was four. The photo is dated all of five months before. According to the caption he’s an earl, respected and influential, and he is standing with a young woman. His daughter.
Completely shaken by what she has discovered she visits the only person who can explain it to her, her mother’s cousin in Oxford. What she learns infuriates her. Her father is alive and well, living a glamorous life with a new wife and daughter. And he is the Earl of Standish. While Rachel and her mother lived in genteel poverty, sacrificing sugar in their tea to pay for rent and food, he lived in wealth and luxury. She is urged to let sleeping dogs lie but she’s not sure she’ll actually be able to do that. And then the most extraordinary thing happens .
Simon Montfort had only stepped into her cousin’s office to return a book but it is clear he has heard the whole sordid story. When Rachel leaves he follows her and insists on buying her a cup of tea and some cake. And then he gallantly offers to help Rachel move into the social circle which is her father and sister’s milieu. Without him, she will never make it past the butler. With him, she will be introduced to the crème de la crème of London society and be able to confront the man who so easily deserted her for a “better” life.
Willig is a master at bringing history to life and this novel is no exception. The era of the Bright Young Things is given to us in glorious detail, from the dresses, headbands, cocktails and “gaspers” to the endless round of theme parties and dances. She is also a master of mixing serious and light subjects so that a book can deal with heavy issues and still have a feel that ultimately, the world is a bright place full of promise. That’s how I felt when closing this book. Reading it was just a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Another thing I thought was extremely well handled was the entire situation between the earl and Rachel. In many a romance novel it would all be instant forgiveness and understanding. Not for Rachel and I appreciated that. We got to see her run through the full spectrum of emotions you would expect someone to deal with when confronted with that situation. Nothing was instant or easy.
I mentioned my love of the heroine already but she really did make the book. She was just such a truly wonderful human being. She had backbone and grit and a strong moral center but she also had compassion and kindness. She cared about the people she was meeting and tried, when she could, to steer them in the right direction. She was an optimist but not in a silly Pollyanna way but in the way of a woman who meets adversity head on and lets it know she won’t let it beat her.
Simon is a good foil for Rachel but we don’t get to really know him till towards the end of the novel. Once that happens it is good to see the solid core beneath the deeply sophisticated social veneer; I had liked him from the start but I didn’t truly find him heroic till he began to let us behind the façade.
My one and only quibble with the book is that the romance wasn’t more of a focus. I understood why – there was so much already going on and this is a relatively short book – but I would have enjoyed more length if it would have meant getting more time with our hero and heroine.
Other than that one weakness this is a terrific novel. Part mystery, part historical but wholly interesting – I am glad to give The Other Daughter an unequivocal recommendation.