LIFE MASK concerns a love triangle in 1790s London, among the elite who moved through the overlapping worlds of art, politics, sport and theatre. It tells the tangled, true story of three people living in the harsh glare of publicity.
The Honourable Mrs. Damer is a young widow of eccentric tastes, the only female sculptor of her time. The Earl of Derby, inventor of the horse race that bears his name, is the richest man in the House of Lords — and the ugliest. Miss Eliza Farren, born a nobody, now reigns as the Queen of Comedy at Drury Lane Theatre.
In a time of looming war and terrorism, of glittering spectacle and financial disasters, the wealthy liberals of the Whig Party work to topple a tyrannical prime minister and a lunatic king. Their marriages and friendships stretch or break; political liaisons prove as dangerous as erotic ones. Will Eliza Farren ever gain entry to that elite circle that calls itself the World? Can Lord Derby’s pride endure public mockery of his long, unconsummated courtship of the actress? And how is Anne Damer ever to silence the whispers of Sapphism that haunt her? Let the games begin …
‘Fabulously entertaining… a full-bodied tale that satisfies the head and the heart’ – KIRKUS
‘An atmosphere of passionate sensuality; small private spaces and intimate moments for the protagonists act as a counterpart to the salacious gossip and heartlessness of the wider world… It is thanks to Donoghue’s skill as a novelist that her characters are so vividly and amusingly resurrected.’ – TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
‘A mesmerizing new novel, which at 650 pages is like one of those great 19th-century tomes that you’re sad to see come to an end.… Donoghue…has alighted on another terrific story, and she pulls off a dazzling feat of choreography in setting it all in motion. She takes obvious delight in the sumptuous details of dress and comportment, the subtle inflections in conversation and the slow blooming of erotic tension. As Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire would say, ‘It was all simply ravish.’” – WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD
‘Donoghue… has an extraordinary talent for turning exhaustive research into plausible characters and narratives; she presents a vibrant world seething with repressed feeling and class tensions.’ — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)
‘A brilliantly woven tale’ – TIME OUT
‘Mesmerizing… terrific story… a dazzling feat.’ – ELLE
‘Vividly alive… complex and moving.’ – SUNDAY TIMES