Things have been better for thirty-something Clemmie Evans. She has just broken up with her fiancé, has been working endless hours at her New York City law firm, and her 99-year-old grandmother’s health has taken a turn for the worse. Granny Addie was always the pinnacle of strength and wisdom in their family --- the glue that keeps them all together. But when the family gathers for her 99th birthday, it’s obvious to everyone that her health is in decline. Clemmie has been so wrapped up in her own dramas; she realizes that there is so much she doesn’t know about her own family, especially Granny Addie. Prompted by Jon (a de-facto family member because his father married her aunt), Clemmie begins to ask her grandmother about her century-long life and adventures.
"Lauren Willig, author of the popular Secret of the Pink Carnation historical fiction series, has aimed her latest novel to the 'Downton Abbey' wheelhouse and hits the bullseye. She keeps readers enthralled with the dual storylines, shifting settings and time periods."
Life begins fairly inauspiciously for young Addie, born to artistic parents content to live like bohemians in Bloomsbury, the literary mecca of London at the turn of the century. But their happy existence is short-lived. After her parents are killed in a bus accident, Addie, just five years old, is sent to live with her cold Aunt Vera and Uncle Charles at Ashford, their stately country home outside London. Despite her youth and inexperience, Addie is clearly astute enough to understand that her presence here is unwanted. Never for a moment is she allowed to forget that she is not an immediate member of this family and is more of a nuisance than anything; Aunt Vera sees to that.
The only things that make life bearable are being able to escape into her imagination, and her cousin Bea, older by a year, who becomes her friend, sister and protector. But as the years progress, life adds complications and loyalties are tested. As Bea gets older, to find a suitable husband for her becomes her mother’s obsession. For once, Addie is grateful that she doesn’t have to bow to society for her choice of a mate. Bea soon finds herself both envying and resenting Addie for her simpler station in life: “Addie just didn’t understand, that was all. Her parents had married for love; they had lived in bohemian abandon in Bloomsbury. She could afford to ask questions about the meaning of success and the value of marriage. Bea didn’t have those options.” And when one man comes between the two, those bonds that were stretched soon will break.
The story of THE ASHFORD AFFAIR vaults back and forth between the early part of the 20th century, with young Addie’s story in England and, eventually Kenya, and 1999, with Clemmie, who is trying to navigate her own complicated life while attempting to learn more about her grandmother’s past and the secret that has lay dormant for decades but now is bubbling to the surface. As she begins to research her grandmother’s life, Clemmie is warned: “Knowledge can be a double-edged sword. You need to decide whether it’s worth cutting yourself on it.”
Lauren Willig, author of the popular Pink Carnation historical fiction series, has aimed her latest novel to the “Downton Abbey” wheelhouse and hits the bullseye. She keeps readers enthralled with the dual storylines, shifting settings and time periods. Fans of her earlier series, those who love writers like Sarah Dunant and Tracy Chevalier, and, of course, all those “Downton” viewers will find themselves transported with this well-researched, lyrically-written and charming novel.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on April 11, 2013