Lady In The Lake by Laura Lippman
Published by Faber Books
Available from all good online and high street bookshops
What The Blurb Says:
Cleo Sherwood disappeared eight months ago. Aside from her parents and the two sons she left behind, no one seems to have noticed. It isn’t hard to understand why: it’s 1964 and neither the police, the public nor the papers care much when Negro women go missing.
Maddie Schwartz – recently separated from her husband, working her first job as an assistant at the Baltimore Sun– wants one thing: a byline. When she hears about an unidentified body that’s been pulled out of the fountain in Druid Hill Park, Maddie thinks she is about to uncover a story that will finally get her name in print. What she can’t imagine is how much trouble she will cause by chasing a story that no-one wants her to tell.
What I Say:
“Men were no help at all she decided. Men kept each other’s secrets.
Men put men first in the end.”
To start to read the Lady In The Lake, is to lose yourself completely in the world of Baltimore and a time where a woman’s worth is solely judged on their ability to ensure that food is on the table, the house is tidy, the children are seen and not heard, and women’s own hopes and dreams are relegated to an afterthought.
Maddie Schwartz is seemingly a happily married woman, wife to Milton and Mother to Seth. Her culinary and hostessing skills are second to none, and her privileged life and social connections should guarantee a comfortable and secure life. Except for Maddie, it’s not enough.
Caught in a world that has meant she has had to subdue every outspoken word and trapped in a life that brings her no personal joy, she makes the brave decision to walk away from her marriage and start her life over again. Make no mistake, Maddie is not a meek and mild woman unable to do anything on her own, she is a fiercely independent person who has decided that her time is now.
As she sets out on her own, she has to make sacrifices about where she lives and what she does, and her decision to live in a neighbourhood which is removed from the gilded cage she has previously inhabited is the start of her quest for independence.
Laura Lippman has an amazing skill to her writing, which lingers on all the seemingly inconsequential details of everyday life in the 1960’s, but also affords us the opportunity to see the reality of what life was like for women at that time. A woman’s worth is measured by her ability to procreate, to keep home and to ensure that above all her man is happy. Now that she is free from these constraints, Maddie can finally be in charge of her own destiny.
After she inadvertently helps to solve a murder, Maddie’s desire to work for a local newspaper becomes her motivation to stay in this new life she has chosen. She eventually manages to get work on the local paper The Star as an assistant to the man who helps local people solve problems with the most mundane of things. Maddie is astute enough to realise that in order to make any mark in this male dominated world, she will have to use her intelligence and wit to get what she wants.
Laura’s skill at describing the testosterone laden, sexist and claustrophobic newspaper offices, put the reader right at the heart of everything. Every step forward that Maddie makes is pushed back as the men in the press room take credit for every discovery she unearths. It is easy to see how much easier it would have been for Maddie to put up and shut up, but as a reader you can feel how frustrated and exasperated she is, and you know that Maddie is not going to fade into the background.
When a resolution to one of the paper’s problem letters means that apparently the body of Cleo Sherwood is found in a local fountain, Maddie feels an affinity to her, and decides that she is not going to let this black woman be another forgotten story, consigned to a few lines in The Star.
Maddie’s voice is not the only one we hear. There are other characters who also tell us all about the world Maddie and Cleo are in. We hear from a bar tender, a waitress, a psychic, police officers and other journalists, as well as Cleo’s family, and most importantly Cleo herself. Not only do we learn more about Cleo and Maddie, and how they are viewed by the world around them, but in having multiple narrative voices, we learn about the racial issues and inherent sexism that were of that time.
1960’s Baltimore is no place for a woman like Maddie to have a mixed race relationship, and her passionate relationship with Ferdie, a black police officer, has to be conducted at nightime and almost exclusively in the confines of her apartment. To go public in such a hostile world could be catastrophic for both of them.
One of the many things I loved about the Lady In The Lake is the parallels that Laura draws between Cleo and Maddie. The novel starts with a scene where Cleo sees Maddie and their eyes lock briefly for a moment, and it seems that the two women are poles apart, living in completely different worlds. The thing is, Maddie and Cleo are more alike than you could possibly imagine. They do not want to be constrained by the limits that society has placed on them. Both women are absolutely aware of their sexuality, and know exactly how to use it to get what they want. Men are often perceived as stepping stones to them attaining what they are searching for.
The Lady In The Lake succeeds so well because it uses the slow, simmering tension which keeps us entranced right from the first page. Maddie and Cleo are strong women who refused to be silenced, and together have a voice which refuses to go away or to be ignored. Their stories are told with tenderness and understanding, and at the end of the novel, I really felt that they had made a lasting impact on me.
Laura Lippman has written an exquisitely paced and timely novel, which is a powerful indictment of a world that unfortunately still holds many truths for us today.
Thank you so much to Namra Amir at Faber & Faber for the chance to join the Blog Tour and for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review
Please check out the other brilliant Bloggers who are also taking part in the Lady In The Lake Blog Tour.