Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington for providing me with an e-Arc in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: January 26th, 2015
Synopsis: Lizzie Borden should be one of the most fortunate young women in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her wealthy father could easily afford to provide his daughters with fashionable clothes, travel, and a rich, cultured life. Instead, haunted by the ghost of childhood poverty, he forces Lizzie and her sister, Emma, to live frugally, denying them the simplest modern conveniences. Suitors and socializing are discouraged, as her father views all gentlemen callers as fortune hunters. Lonely and deeply unhappy, Lizzie stifles her frustration, dreaming of the freedom that will come with her eventual inheritance. But soon, even that chance of future independence seems about to be ripped away. And on a stifling August day in 1892, Lizzie’s long-simmering anger finally explodes.
I don’t know why, but no matter how many books I read about the infamous Lizzie Borden, I can’t quite get Christina Ricci’s portrayal out of my head, despite the fact that Lizzie really looked like this:
This was especially true with Brandy Purdy’s fictional portrait of her because in addition to delving into the events that led up to that fateful day as well as the aftermath, The Secrets of Lizzie Borden is also dripping in sensuality and eroticism, as Lizzie enters relationship after relationship, desperately looking for love, only to have all of them end in disaster.
The book also brings up the question of nature vs nurture. Would Lizzie have turned out the way she had if her mother hadn’t died and Andrew Borden wasn’t a cold, disengaged father who at the very least, psychologically abused his daughters. Naturally the fact that he was rich, yet forced his family to live like paupers didn’t help. Most surprising to me in this novel were the author’s portrayals of the girls stepmother Abby, and Lizzie’s sister Emma. I’ve read a few books about the Borden family over the years and Abby always came across as being selfishly uncaring towards her two stepdaughters. In this book Abby becomes part of the Borden household when Lizzie is five and Emma fifteen. She does her best to reach out to both girls but is instantly and repeatedly rebuffed by Emma. The love- starved little Lizzie bonds with Abby who encourages her to embrace herself, but under Emma’s never-ending pressure, Lizzie eventually rebuffs Abby’s maternal overtures. Emma has always seemed to me to be a kind of austere woman, with deep religious beliefs. Here she’s portrayed as being judgemental and cruel, oftentimes physically abusing Lizzie when they were young.
I’m not going to go into everything that leads up to the murders of Andrew and Abigail Borden, but let me just say that depicted as they are it is no wonder why Lizzie snapped that fateful day. It’s a perfect storm which basically leads to Lizzie having a psychotic break. After the subsequent trial and acquittal, Lizzie thinks she now has the two things she’s always wanted, money and independence. Yet despite this she dies alone and friendless.
What makes The Secrets of Lizzie Borden so different from other books I’ve read is that it’s told entirely from her viewpoint which makes it so much more personal. I felt as though I was reading her diary at times. The story is mesmerizing and insightful, and the characters are so compelling, I had a difficult time tearing myself away to deal with real life. I highly recommend this to anyone who has a fascination with the Borden family and the infamous murders, and even those who may not be familiar with the story. It’s a raw, gut-wrenching look at a woman who should have had everything, yet is ultimately torn apart by her inner demons.