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Life Mask by Emma Donoghue

Life Mask (original 2004; edition 2004)

by Emma Donoghue (Author)

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7121820,416 (3.63)51
"Lord Derby, unhappily married and the inventor of the horse race that bears his name, is the steadfast suitor of England's leading comedy star, Eliza Farren. When the working-class actress begins a deep friendship with the aristocratic widow Anne Damer, a sculptor and rumoured Sapphist, the consequent scandal threatens to topple Eliza from her precarious position and destroy the lives of all three." "In an England overshadowed by the French Revolution, shaken by terrorism and a repressive government, Emma Donoghue leads her characters in an intricate minuet of public ambition and private passion." "In the Houses of Parliament, on the stage, in the bedroom, at the race track and in the intimate salons of the Beau Monde, Life Mask brings to life a world where political liaisons prove just as dangerous as erotic ones."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
Title:Life Mask
Authors:Emma Donoghue (Author)
Info:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2004), Edition: First, 672 pages
Collections:Your library

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Life Mask by Emma Donoghue (2004)

  1. 10
    The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Intimate friendships between women give rise to scandalous rumors and interpersonal drama in these character-driven historical novels. Although both London-set stories are atmospheric and richly detailed, The Paying Guests opens in the 1920s, Life Mask in the late eighteenth century.… (more)
  2. 10
    Fanny & Adelaide : the lives of the remarkable Kemble sisters by Ann Blainey (mambo_taxi)
    mambo_taxi: While one book is a double biography and the other is historical fiction, both deal with the precarious lives of female artists. Some characters you meet in their youth in Life Mask you meet again in their old age in Fanny and Adelaide. Both books are highly enjoyable.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
As I read this book, the comments Jerry Seinfeld once made about his tv show came to mind: that it was "a show about nothing". This book is very similar in mood, tracing the lives of three main characters and the people surrounding them. Eliza Farren, the celebrated actress; Edward Smith-Stanley, Lord Derby, who was in love with Eliza but successfully held at arm's length for more than a decade; and Mrs. Anne Damer, a sculptor and mutual friend. Their intertwined lives and the scandals involving them are played out in London, against the backdrop of the French Revolution and the reign of George III. There is a great deal of politics, and that can be a bit confusing.
It's a long book and does have some very dry spots, but I enjoyed it. It gives a very clear picture of what life was like for the aristocracy in England during the late 18th century, and the confusion and fear overtaking them as social change became the main goal of government. ( )
  a1stitcher | Jun 22, 2019 |
Oh, I love Emma Donoghue! This is historical fiction of the best kind -- actually based very closely on fact, using an impressive treasure trove of journals, letters, and biographies to flesh out historical figures with imagined details. The tale of two female friends in England in the late 1700s, rumored to have participated in a relationship barely imaginable at the time. There is a bit of drag towards the end, but overall the writing is fascinating. I have been recommending this book freely. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |

You'd think after plodding through [book:Slammerkin|44543] and forcing myself through every single page turn of [book:The Sealed Letter|1503626], I would have learned my lesson. But no. I kept reading rave reviews about Donoghue's works and convinced myself that I was the problem, that eventually I'd find a book of hers that I'd fall in love with.

If that book is out there, I'd love to find it. It certainly isn't this book, by any stretch of the imagination.

This book reads like an "actual" Victorian novel, and in that way it's interesting. Only, this book is in dire need of an editor, and, being written from a modern viewpoint, seems to lack all of the charm of a real Victorian novel. Donoghue is trying way too hard here and it shows. It's painful. I got about halfway through this book until I simply just could not take it any longer. Everything about this book is dull as dishwater.

I am loathe to compare Donoghue to [author:Sarah Waters|25334], but she and Waters tread similar territory with their books, so comparison is inevitable for the sake of pointing out this novel's flaws. Waters is just a better writer when it comes to historical fiction. Waters is an example of a writer who knows how to capture the essence of Victorian literature and setting. Maybe Waters is better because all of Victorian-setting books are original stories that are small (or in some cases, like [book:Affinity|72929], overt) homages to classical Victorian works/writers -- unlike Donoghue, who seems to love taking real life events and creating backstories for them.

It just doesn't work for me. It just goes on and on and on without any sort of end in sight. There's no thrill, no dramatics, no ANYTHING. None of the characters seem to have any sort of real self-awareness at all. And I could not take one more second of reading about romantic sentimentality about the French Revolution or the countless scenes of the privileged few stepping over poor people on their way to the next big event.

Maybe it's an accurate portrayal of Victorian life, but the problem is, Donoghue has nothing to SAY about it. And I think that's the biggest problem here, alongside a lack of real plot. Why did Donoghue write this novel? What's the point?

I don't think even Donoghue knows. ( )
  majesdane | Aug 8, 2017 |
At first I was annoyed at how much insinuated detail there was: the author decided to avoid an info dump about the 1780s of London by making every other sentence serve as a vehicle for a passing remark on current events, manner explanations, or political tensions. It seemed a thin excuse that the protagonist we first meet is an up-and-coming actress who is trying to pass for a gentlewoman, and knows little of the inherent topics of well-bred conversation. Eliza's pretty darn good by the time we meet her, so not sure this passes.
Also, the first couple narrator switches had me confused, since the action is still jumping about on the exposition and the setting details, and I'd barely registered the names of the characters before we started head-hopping!
However, most of the story was fairly gripping: the politic of the age dealing with royal debts, royal madness, laws of property; the shifting lines of propriety and class identity; the fabric of female friendships; the inner strengths and outer masks worn by Eliza and Anne. Very well explored.
The ending was not extremely satisfying, and I felt a bit let down/ nonplussed by Anne's 'transformation'. Not sure I bought it as such. But, lots of interesting things to think about, and some funny buts and thrilling heartfelt moments, too. ( )
  MargaretPinardAuthor | May 23, 2015 |
A long novel set in the 18th century, centering around three people who share a character trait of being indecisive and boring. Anne Damer is a an aristocrat and a sculptor; she's friends with Lord Derby who has for literally years had a chaste relationship with actress Eliza Farren who has risen from the lower classes to stardom on Drury Lane. Eliza is unwilling to make an arrangement with him while his ailing wife still lives. Anne and Eliza become friends but scurrilous rumors suggesting they are Sapphists threaten both their reputations.

The problem with the book isn't so much that it's long and boring, but that the characters aren't brought to life. Anne's thoughts and feelings are described more than the others. It's hard to see why Derby is so besotted with Eliza that he's willing to wait for her and why Anne is so drawn to her - we're told of her beauty and grace and Derby and Anne's delight in that, but beyond that she doesn't have any particular appeal. She's a comedy actress but doesn't come across as clever or funny, and her personality is vague - she says she's never felt love for anyone. She just goes through year after year of performances with a few thoughts about her fellow thespians, but there's no insight into how she prepares for a role or her feelings about acting. A character who's the center of admiration needs to sparkle. The backstage scenes are lifeless, and if Eliza is so appealing, why doesn't she have other stage door Johnnies?

Part of the plot is one of the character's lack of self knowledge, which accounts for some of the vagueness. This was mildly interesting to me in the sense of wondering, in times when sodomy and Sapphism were judged harshly, how would would a person who realized they were drawn in that direction come to terms with it. But as a story, it was unsatisfying. There's much much more intrigue about various characters as the book winds along, but after a while I just didn't care.

Oh yeah they're based on real people, and the politics were interesting enough to make me go to Wikipedia for more background - so was Hugh Walpole - but that wasn't enough. I should have believed the Goodreads reviewers who said this was boring. ( )
  piemouth | Apr 3, 2015 |
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