Book Review: The Truth in Masquerade by Carole Strachan

book The Truth in MasqueradeThe Truth in Masquerade follows the story of opera singer Anna Maxwell as she comes to terms with her husband’s sudden decision to leave her, without explanation, after years of happy marriage. The book has a slow build up, but is exceptionally and beautifully detailed, as we follow Anna to her next role, performing ‘the governess’ in an outdoor operatic adaptation of the ghostly Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw.   

The performance is to take place in the grounds of a large house outside Oxford, which even has its own ghostly lake. Anna rents a cottage on the estate, and is haunted by her own ghosts, as she recalls her student days in Oxford, singing in the college choir. She remembers a young man called Mark, who was obsessed with the Thomas Hardy novel Far From The Madding Crowd, and saw himself as her ‘Gabriel Oak’, waiting patiently for his true love, while she was distracted by other suitors. Anna ended up marrying Edwyn, her so-called ‘Mr Boldwood’, who has now abandoned her, leaving her to doubt their entire relationship. She has long since lost touch with Mark, but memories of both him and her husband seem to follow her everywhere.

The plot is complex, and focuses not only on Anna’s relationship with Edwyn but also on the difficulty of playing a challenging opera role, and her friendships with the other actors, including Michael, who plays the boy Miles. Having read The Turn of the Screw, I recognised the twisting, ambiguous aspects of the plot, but I’ve never seen Britten’s opera, which seems to be much more suggestive and has ‘real’ singing ghosts. The Truth in Masquerade has actually inspired me to see the opera, if I ever get the chance.

Meanwhile, the book also follows Edwyn’s perspective, as he deals with the separation from Anna, and attempts to settle in North Wales. He appears to be mourning his father’s death, but there is something strange about how he remembers his parents, referring to them always by their first names, with a sense of detachment. Eventually we discover Edwyn’s reasons for leaving Anna, as he attempts to uncover the secrets surrounding his own childhood.

The Truth in Masquerade is well-written and provides a fascinating insight into the life of an opera singer. Anna must cope with her own turbulent emotions, whilst trying to fit her mind to that of her character – Britten’s vulnerable, slightly unhinged governess. The book is also rooted firmly in nineteenth century literature, consciously echoing themes and plot devices from both Far From the Madding Crowd and The Turn of the Screw. It begins slowly, becoming a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a satisfying end.

Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher – Cinnamon Press

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