The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Press
Pages: 358 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads
Summary (from Goodreads)
As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she's been working towards - but now she's not sure it's enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie's ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything...
What follows is a potent story that spans generations and continents, bringing an Out of Africa feels to a Downton Abbey cast of unforgettable characters. From the inner circles of WWI-era British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.
Thoughts on The Ashford Affair
I'd never read anything by Lauren Willig before, but this cover caught my eye as soon as I spotted in online. As a lover of historical fiction, I'm always drawn to generational sagas. Plus, I was sold the minute I realized that part of this was set in Africa. During college, I spent six weeks in South Africa and my love for that continent has just grown ever since. I believe this is a departure for Willig as far as setting/time period, but I hope it's representative of her writing style. I just loved so much about this book!
The Ashford Affair follows two women: Clementine Evans and her grandmother Addie. The chapters alternate between the past (with the focus on a younger Addie) and the present (with the focus on Clementine), and the way these two women are linked. The family secrets, long buried, are finally coming to light as Addie approaches the end of her life.
A young Addie arrives at Ashford Park as an orphan. She's come to live with her extended family, but she's not prepared to enter this new world of wealth and privilege. She befriends her cousin, Bea, and the two become fast friends. Even when Addie is made to feel as though she's an outcast, Bea always draws her back into the fold.
In the modern day, Clementine is an attorney in New York whose focus on work has hurt her personal relationships. At a birthday celebration for Addie, Clementine realizes that her grandmother's health is truly failing… and that there are so many things about her grandmother that she doesn't know. And this sets up the action to come: Clementine begins to dig deep into the family's history and her grandmother's story.
The book moves really quickly - each chapter revealing another piece of the puzzle and a new layer to the story. Addie's relationship with her cousin Bea is at the heart of the story. I loved these characters, and I thought their friendship was so believable. I could see their love for one another, but I could also sense the tension underlying their relationship.
I really enjoyed the way this story was written! I don't always like having multiple main characters and time periods, but it really worked in this case. I did prefer the historical chapters since that's where the meat and mystery of the story is, but Clemmie's story was still interesting to me. The setting was so rich and detailed. I would loved to see more of Addie's time in Kenya, but I also understand why the book ended at the point that it did. You don't see all of Addie's life - just a pivotal sliver that changed the course of her family's story.
The Ashford Affair felt both personal and grand, in many ways. The family history is complex, emotional and somber at times, but the scale of the multiple time periods and settings made it feel like a wide look at Addie's world. The women in this story are messy and complicated, but they also seemed real. I was fascinated by their lives and their choices - to the point that I was desperate to just keep reading instead of going to bed. I can't compare this to Willig's other books, but I know that I'll be picking them up in the future. The Ashford Affair was engaging and left me wanting to spend even more time with these characters! I think fans of historical fiction will find much to love in this one.
"Distilled essence of Bea, thought Addie. Not just the sprawling letters, but the words themselves. Nothing was ever simply what it was; it was always utterly, terribly, desperately. Love or hate, Bea did neither by halves. Excellent when one was loved, not so entertaining when one was hated. Addie had seen both sides."