“It was hot, the night my mother disappeared. It was a Saturday, and she had been going out. I had wanted to go out with her, because I was eighteen, and bored, and because the world and my exciting future beckoned.”
It’s remarkable how men react when women break the rules. No Life for a Lady is Hannah Dolby’s first novel and has since been declared “the most joyful book of 2023”. Published in March 2023, it quickly gained critical acclaim and praise worldwide. A historical mystery, it covers a range of topics from feminism to marriage to the roles we play in society.
The story follows Violet Hamilton, a 28-year-old woman, unmarried and all but ostracised from polite society. Her father worries that she’ll never find a husband as she continuously rebuffs every suitor, and her mother disappeared ten years previous – a mystery that Violet is adamant to solve. Hiring a so-called detective sets off a string of events that puts more than just her own reputation at risk. But she’s a woman who knows her own mind, and she refuses to give up her search for the mother who vanished without a trace. Can she finally solve the mystery of Lily Hamilton? Or will the search cost her more than she can afford to lose?
No Life for a Lady is a funny, adventurous story perfect to read in one sitting!
There are numerous plot twists that keep you on your toes and completely unsure as to what will happen next. It makes the story enjoyable and entertaining as the mystery unfolds right in front of your eyes. However, the beginning of the book is quite flat and uninspiring, and admittedly, I considered giving up there and then. Yet despite its rocky start, it does improve, and by the end of the story, I was fully captivated!
The protagonist of the story, Violet, is incredibly naive and does not significantly develop as a character throughout the novel. The added disadvantage is that this story is told through her eyes in the first-person narrative, and given her wide-eyed personality, it’s annoying at times to see something so blatant that Violet herself doesn’t understand.
It has the perfect blend of murder mystery and social criticism. Dolby was able to expertly weave the problems of the patriarchy and misogynism throughout No Life for a Lady without it feeling forced, leaving the reader curious and engaged in equal measure.
It’s realistic in the sense of how society is portrayed. Characters are complexly developed, and the hero doesn’t always win. Unfortunately, this does lead to a lack of happy endings for more than one person, but seeing the harsh realities of life makes the book a satisfying read despite that. Speaking of the end of the story, the so-called “resolution” comes swiftly and suddenly and isn’t entirely satisfactory. The story also ends right before you want it to, so be prepared to have follow-up questions once you’ve finished reading it.
Overall, I’d give Hannah Dolby’s No Life for a Lady three out of five stars. If Bridgerton met Enola Holmes, then this is what you’d get! I’d recommend this novel to fans of period dramas or Victorian detective fiction, as it combines all of the glamour and expectations of an 1800s debutant with the gritty realism of Hercule Poirot’s whodunit. If you’re looking for a light-hearted and engaging mystery, then this is the book for you!
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