Sophie Mayhew has always been an enigma, at least according to the tabloids. However, after her husband John, a major political player in the House of Commons, has an affair come to light, Sophie responds with an outburst during a press conference that leaves little doubt as to how she feels. From there, it’s as though a dam has burst, and she can’t help but escape to a world away from the spotlight, where she knows no one. And yet, somehow, it just might be the community where she feels at home for the first time.
Often the most interesting things in politics occur offstage, and author Milly Johnson more than knows that. At its core, her newest book is a political novel, examining power— how it’s gained, how it’s shared, and, perhaps most importantly, who can use it over another person. Johnson’s Commons is filled with backdoor dealings, nefarious luncheons, and affairs left and right.
Even with such a dark backdrop, Johnson finds a refreshing antidote: Sophie Mayhew herself. Often the doormat of her family, used as a crutch to prop up her husband and his political prospects, the beginning of the book finds her plummeting toward an imminent crash due to her husband’s actions. Some of these chapters are almost painful as she navigates a world that’s more concerned with image than substance. But that’s not to suggest the opening is unenjoyable by any stretch. Sophie has to appear at her lowest in order to go on a complete journey.
When she disappears from her London home and reappears in a Yorkshire seaside town, though, that’s when Johnson’s work really shines. The drab political banter is cast aside in favor of Sophie searching for exactly what she wants for once.
The result is a complex, funny, and heartfelt saga of discovery. Sophie is pulled into a comforting world so far outside of her usual zone. It’s a tight-knit community, mostly centered around a few grounded denizens who form a quasi-family for Sophie. They’re charming and comforting, but there’s an added bit of tension that Sophie will have to return to her former life at any time.
Above all, Johnson deserves praise for her characters— their realistic portrayals hold such broad and difficult concepts together. Johnson understands people in all their funny, sad, complicated, human ways. The result is an absolutely satisfying journey for the magnificent Sophie Mayhew.
Title: The Magnificent Mrs. Mayhew
Author: Milly Johnson
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: July 29, 2019
Classification: Women’s Fiction
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.