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The English Wife by Lauren Willig

The English Wife

Early Release

This is an early release that's only available to our members—the rest of the world has to wait to read it.

by Lauren Willig

Quick take

It’s a bonbon of a book in the best way; every page feels like a secret indulgence, best read alone, curled up while wearing your most luxurious pajamas.


From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he's the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he's recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she's having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay's sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

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Why I love it

A dazzling journey through the New York high society of the Gilded Age, where dresses and rumors are more important than politics, The English Wife drips with both Shakespeare references and near-pornographic descriptions of flapper-era fashion and well-appointed townhomes. It’s tempting to call this novel a mystery, but its scope is far wider than a whodunit: It’s a broad examination of culture and class at the turn of the twentieth century.

Brayard Van Duyvil is the impressively-named prodigal son of a prominent New York family and heir to its massive fortune. After his scandalous death and the disappearance of his new young bride, Brayard’s sister, Janie, tries to uncover the truth. Was it a murder/suicide? A stranger who killed them both and ran off into the night? Or neither? Janie aligns herself with a young reporter and discovers secrets about her family that she never would have expected. Janie’s story alternates with another, five years earlier and told from the perspective of an actress who had befriended Brayard on a trip long ago. As the reader jumps back and forth between the stories, we become privy to a gradual drip of information that unfurls the central mystery.

What makes this book truly unputdownable is Willig’s prose: clean and sharp, as if every sentence has been carved from a block of ice. Willig conjures a mood of candlelight and cobblestones, of heavy velvet dresses and newspapers with smeared print. It’s a bonbon of a book in the best way; in which every page feels like a secret indulgence, best read alone, curled up while wearing your most luxurious pajamas, or else while traveling by train to somewhere very far away.

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Member ratings (3,137)

  • Alicia N.

    Old Bridge , NJ

    I didn’t know what to expect with The English Wife, but quickly got swept away in its plotline. Mystery, historical fiction, and a dash of romance— this is everything I’ve been looking for in a novel!

  • Lauren M.

    Alpena, MI

    This historical book has a lot of unexpected twists. I felt awful for Georgie because she really got the short-end of the stick throughout her life. Janie's strength surprised me. Ending was shocking.

  • Sarah A.

    Barnesville, OH

    Lauren Willig is my favorite author and I love her books! After reading this...she's done it, again! This book was amazing! It kept me reading until I was done and I could read it all over! Brilliant!

  • kelly s.

    chicago, IL

    I love historical fiction and this book is now one of my top favorites in that genre. There is SO much packed in this story - by the last page my heart was racing and I was exhausted!Highly recommend

  • Margaret K.

    Los Angeles, CA

    Lauren Willig is one of my favorite authors, and I loved this book! This book both evokes the Gilded Age atmosphere while having two awesome ladies at the story's center. Wish it didn't have to end <3