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Life Mask

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3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  1,430 ratings  ·  161 reviews
The bestselling author of Slammerkin vividly brings to life the Beau Monde of late eighteenth-century England, turning the private drama of three celebrated Londoners into a robust, full-bodied portrait of a world on the brink of revolution. In a time of looming war, of glittering spectacle and financial disasters, the wealthy liberals of the Whig Party work to topple a ty ...more
Paperback, 672 pages
Published September 5th 2005 by Mariner Books (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

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Izetta Autumn
Don't do it. Just don't. The problem is, the book needed a brutal and dedicated editor. Everything would have been okay if it was 200 pages shorter. At it's length it simply looses the momentum to bring the reader to the (inevitable) conclusion. The history of England is interesting though.
Holly
If you are fascinated by Whig politics in late 18th Century England, you'll love this book. If you're interested in the intersections of theater and the aristocracy in 18th Century England, you'll enjoy the book. If you're interested in cockfighting, horse racing, drinking, taking mistresses, and other "gentlemanly" pursuits, you will enjoy this book. If you are interested in the specific historical people who appear in the book, you will absolutely love it. But if you are looking for a an emoti ...more
Labmom
I hate it when authors do this - attempt historical fiction with characters that are cliched stereotypes unaffected by the monumental historical changes occuring around them. At over 600 pages this was an excrutiatingly detailed and accurate representation of late 18th century England (and I learned a lot) but the main characters could have been from lifted from "The Great Gatsby" or any current Hollywood gossip rag for all the depth and relevance they had. Portrayals of shallow aristocrats boas ...more
Jennifer
Oh, I love Emma Donoghue! This is historical fiction of the best kind -- actually based very closely on fact, using an impressive treasure trove of journals, letters, and biographies to flesh out historical figures with imagined details. The tale of two female friends in England in the late 1700s, rumored to have participated in a relationship barely imaginable at the time. There is a bit of drag towards the end, but overall the writing is fascinating. I have been recommending this book freely.
Laurie Tomchak
I'm reading through this author's works, and enjoyed this one more than "Slammerkin". There was more resolution, and a more interesting historical background. I've read some books about the period, and some novels set in the regency (and even some regency buck romances). Some readers have said that they found the book too long and had too much historical background, but for the most part I found the background interesting. There is more happiness in this novel than in Slammerkin, and for the mos ...more
Marissa
This is an excellent novel. For me it was slow-going in the beginning but once I was a quarter of the way in, I couldn't put it down. The story is so masterfully written. The author found a fascinating time and fascinating characters that truly existed and managed to fill in the blanks perfectly. I highly recommend this novel to lovers of historical fiction and to fans of Donoghue's other books. It's quite different from her others but equally as good!
Jenny
Id like to plagarize from two reviews I read on Goodreads.

1. Its no Slammerkin
2. What editor allowed this to be so long, for no reason?



...more
Fiona Hurley
I hesitated when deciding on a star rating for this book. When it's good, it's very very good; Donaghue really can write. Anne Damer is the most interesting character, and the story was strongest when focused on her. Rumours of "sapphism" plague her, although she swears there is no truth in them. And yet, her warm friendships with women are tinged with jealousy, while she recoils from romantic or matrimonial entanglements with men. How long, the reader wonders, can she continue to deny her own n ...more
Sammie
Part of me feels like I should criticise this book for being too long, but for some reason that fact hasn't really reduced my opinion if it. It plodded along through the lives of 3 people in history; The Earl of Derby, with his political difficulties and estranged wife. Eliza Farren, a women born with very little who has risen to fame as The Queen of Comedy and caught the attention of the Earl of Derby. And Anne Damer, a rich widow turned sculptress, rumoured to be a lesbian.

The book tells of t
...more
Deb
I’m working my way through all of Donoghue’s novels. This one from 2004 is set in the Beau Monde of late 18th century England, a time when rapid and exciting changes in political thought clashed with a rigid conformity in the matter of social mores, especially in regard to women. One of the central narratives is the story of sculptor Anne Damer (based, like almost every character, on a real historical figure) and her attempts to live a life of integrity despite being dogged by rumors of “sapphis ...more
J Caroline
Life Mask is reminiscent of The French Lieutenant's Woman...only much better (and, of course, set in a different era). Its style captures the period, politics, and flighty upper class beautifully. More importantly, the social critique fits the history and echoes contemporary issues (interference in foreign wars, the possibility of terrorism, government fear-mongering) in a way that helps the reader truly feel at home in the eighteenth century. And this critique, while strong, never feels heavy-h ...more
Elena
Sep 30, 2014 Elena rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: lgbtq
Enjoyable and often fascinating novel by an lesbian Irish author about art, theater, and romantic entanglements in upper-class Britain at the turn of the 19th century. Thoroughly researched and full of great bits of social history, although honestly, I would have preferred slightly less detail on the politics of the period. (Not that the politics didn't make for an interesting comparison with current US politics, concerns about terrorism and homeland security and all!)

All of the main characters
...more
Adna
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Laura Purcell
I'm a huge fan of Emma Donoghue and the Georgian period - I have to admit, if I wasn't, I probably would have given up on this book. It was the kind of historical fiction where the author chucks in all of their research as if to show that they've done it. There were a lot of needless speeches and scenes that really dragged down the pace. However, because of Donoghue's obvious talent there were parts that sparkled, and I particularly enjoyed the last quarter of the book where things sped up (fina ...more
Chris
I picked this up because it was described to me as being like "Jane Austen with sex"; I would describe it as "Jane Austen without sex and without Jane Austen." In 600+ pages, I don't think I found a plot, though there was quite a bit of historical political intrigue and a lot of development of character relationships. (And there really wasn't that much romance.)

The author captures the feel of political unrest in England at the time of the French revolution quite well (as far as I can judge, not
...more
Alex Kennard
First off, if like to mention that if Goodreads allowed half-stars, this is a perfect candidate for a 3.5 star rating. Life Mask is a fascinating historical study of three intertwined lives in England as Europe fell into the chaos of the French Revolution. Donoghue is plainly an exceptional writer, but this book is a good example of a young writer being overwhelmed by the depth of the research they've done.

Over 600 pages, you only truly begin to connect with the characters late in the day, whic
...more
Sandie
Take one beautiful comedic actress, Eliza Farren, add the married Twelfth Earl of Derby, stir in widowed sculptor Anne Damer (the niece of Horace Walpole). To these add a dash of political intrigue, a sprinkling of what passes for love in the late 18th century, a smattering of captivating supporting characters, and the requisite amount of scandal, jealousy and gossip.

Emma Donoghue has stirred these ingredients together to form this historically based and highly plausible work of fiction.
Althou
...more
Becky
This novel is set in the late 18th century among the British elite. It weaves the worlds of the aristocracy, the stage, and politics into a neat reflection of the times. The major characters are all real historical people; Donoghue obviously did a great deal of research into their biographies as well as the current events of the times. I felt like I got a very good feel for different political and social issues of the time and it was thoroughly intriguing.

My only criticism is that the book dragg
...more
VeganMedusa
I really tried, because this author always delivers for me. But I barely got 100 pages into this book in two weeks, and couldn't see the point. It wasn't bad, just not very interesting.
Shasta
I'm giving up on this one 50 pages in -- I love everything else I've read by Emma Donoghue, but this one is boring me to tears. Excruciatingly detailed theater rehearsal and performance scenes, joined by a focus on late 18th century English politics -- just not my cup of tea. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of classic English literature and much historical fiction, but I feel absolutely no interest in these characters or their milieu. This is no page turner, that's for sure.
Diane Lewis
I've been a fan of the author since reading Slammerkin, but this book was a slow start. In fact, I read thirty pages a couple of years ago, and set it down until recently. It took at least a hundred pages to engage me with the characters, but after that I enjoyed the novel. Actress Eliza I liked the least; she was shallow. I felt sorry for Derby, saddled with a cheating wife and in love with Eliza who wouldn't so much as let him kiss her hand. I did deplore Derby's mean treatment of the sculptre ...more
Nina
The novel suffers from Info-Dump-Itis. Smart writers (and Donaghue certainly is one of these) who are well-informed on the history tend to want to stuff all the interesting tidbits they learn into the narrative. The result is scenes that do not move the plot forward, cluttered with irrelevant details. The book would have benefited from being cut to about 1/2 it's length.

In her determination to cram Fun Facts into the story, we're served up with awkward moments such as when Derby discovers that h
...more
Chrystal Hays
What a pleasant surprise. I expected to like this, as I liked Slammerkin. I was reading as historical fiction...but the more I read, the more I found history than fiction.
How well this author has captured a specific time and place, after extensive research. How interesteing that all the major characters are based on real people.
The action runs from Spring of 1787 through May of 1897. They were significant and interesting times, and in many ways, the current events of today are clearly echoing
...more
Enid Wray
Don't read this because you've read Room. Slow and ponderous - in the extreme - at the start, I almost gave up on this one. By the end, I think I enjoyed it, although I'm still not really certain. How's that for a recommendation? Once it gets into the politics of the time (late 1700's in Britain, and Europe) it gets better. The portraits she paints of society and individual characters are quite superb. I guess what bothers me is the lack of what I would call a real plot. This, ultimately, is wha ...more
Dardenitaaa

I’ve known for so long that reading books are no different from going on trips–we pack our imaginary suitcases and fly elsewhere according to our whims. Reading historical fiction gives us the bonus perk of time-travel so apart from the freedom in choosing our dream itineraries, we’re also very much in control of calendar and clock. Pretty neat, methinks.

Stunning, dramatic and memorable—Life Mask is a Victorian trip on high definition grandeur. I feel every bit the tourist with the truckload of
...more
Margaret Pinard
At first I was annoyed at how much insinuated detail there was: the author decided to avoid an info dump about the 1780s of London by making every other sentence serve as a vehicle for a passing remark on current events, manner explanations, or political tensions. It seemed a thin excuse that the protagonist we first meet is an up-and-coming actress who is trying to pass for a gentlewoman, and knows little of the inherent topics of well-bred conversation. Eliza's pretty darn good by the time we ...more
Andrea
This book is the perfect story crack for me – historical fiction with lots of rich detail, lots of commentary on the rights of women, and interesting characters. I can understand those who weren’t thrilled with the pacing – it is slow – but I found the story fascinating. Set against the back drop of George III’s madness, his heir’s decline into useless debauchery, and the French Revolution, there was so much going on this book that touched on other histories and historical fictions I’ve read. Th ...more
Elizabeth
DNF.

You'd think after plodding through Slammerkin and forcing myself through every single page turn of The Sealed Letter, I would have learned my lesson. But no. I kept reading rave reviews about Donoghue's works and convinced myself that I was the problem, that eventually I'd find a book of hers that I'd fall in love with.

If that book is out there, I'd love to find it. It certainly isn't this book, by any stretch of the imagination.

This book reads like an "actual" Victorian novel, and in that
...more
Naksed
A gem of a book. The style reminded me of Hilary Mantel and in fact can be a good companion read to Mantel' s A Place of Greater Safety, as both books cover the same historical period (from the period immediately preceding the French Revolution to its self implosion and resulting rise of Napoleon Bonaparte).
Donohue writes from the perspective of real life historical figures in the British aristocracy. It is absolutely delightful how she captures their passionate political fervor while at the sa
...more
Maxine
With "Life Mask", Emma Donoghue has written a fascinating work of historical fiction, based on the lives of several actual historical figures. Actress Elizabeth Farren lives on the fringes of the Beau Monde. Elegant and well-spoken, she's tolerated, if not actually embraced by the aristocracy thanks in part to her complicated friendship with the extremely rich, but married Lord Derby, who moves in the highest circles.

Through Derby, Eliza meets society sculptress Ann Damer, who is also the niece
...more
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2015 Fishing Chal...: Life Mask by Emma Donoghue 3 15 Jan 11, 2015 03:08AM  
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Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of ...more
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“I tell you frankly, Mrs. Damer, the more I see of different nations, the less sure I feel about the pre-eminence of my own.” 1 likes
“The days of my vanity are over and heaven knows they weren't happy enough to regret” 1 likes
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