"The Beach Hut" by Veronica Henry was one of my favourite reads of 2010 so I was very excited to be sent a copy of the paperback version of "Marriage And Other Games" from Orion books for review (the hardback was out in 2009).
Here is the synopsis:
Forgive and forget? Could you...? When girl-about-town Charlotte discovers her husband has been arrested for fraud, she flees to the wilds of Exmoor to nurse her broken heart. Yet despite the slower pace of life, she finds she's not the only person whose life is in turmoil. There's Sebastian, bad boy of the British art scene, determined to drink the local pub dry while his wife lives it up in London. Then Fitch, who married the high-spirited Hayley thinking he would find wedded bliss, but is struggling to keep up with her outrageous demands. And finally Penny, recently divorced and quietly determined to have more fun second time around - but who with? As Charlotte adapts to a life without LK Bennett and Starbucks on the doorstep, she turns to her newfound friends for advice. Can she find it in her heart to forgive her husband for what he did? And if she does, will it be too late? (Courtesy of Google Books)
This is a character-driven novel. There are narratives from four key characters throughout although Charlotte (an interior designer) is the main character and becomes a link between all these characters in the tight-knit community. To begin with, I found the number of characters a little too much (we also touch on some of the story through a fifth character’s perspective, Catkin, Sebastian’s wife). By the time Penny was introduced, I was beginning to forget about Charlotte and wondered if I’d be able to keep track. My worries were proved wrong though, it soon flowed well for me and although Penny’s story always felt a little marginalised compared to the others it was certainly interesting, and I would have liked to learn a bit more about her life, especially towards the end of the novel when this local GP is treading on dangerous ground.
All the characters are experiencing relationship issues and these are tackled sensitively and maturely throughout, it gets you thinking about the lengths people will go to to save a relationship and to try and make the other person happy, to forgive mistakes, but at what cost? Charlotte’s husband ends up in prison for fraud he carried out to get some money together for further IVF treatment; down-to-earth Fitch is taken for granted by Hayley and generally treated poorly, whilst they’re separated he always wonders if he can make it work, spurred on by memories of the woman he first fell in love with, the mother of his children; Sebastian, a successful but troubled and uninspired artist spends his weekdays all alone whilst his wife is working away, at what cost to their marriage?
All the storylines intertwine nicely, facilitated by the small community in Exmoor as the setting. I loved the setting and could see how Veronica has written for TV series such as Heartbeat before (Goathland is one of my favourite places!); the small community was captured perfectly. My only niggle was I wanted more! I wanted to know more about the local pub landlord, more about Sebastian’s cleaner and her daughter who were small but endearing characters. Charlotte and Fitch are both characters you warm to (especially Fitch), Sebastian and Penny not as much but we aren’t meant to like everyone, it makes it all the more interesting.
I think the pace of the novel works well and it flows beautifully once you get into it. It covers complex issues that tug at your heart strings whilst not being too heavy. The ending wasn’t what I expected, but it fitted more with what I hoped for by the time we got there so that was positive. I also enjoyed the fact that the novel didn’t conveniently tie up every single loose end, there is suggestion, and you may be left wondering "well what if so-and-so found out about so-and-so, how would that change things?" Well it’s a good question, but I enjoyed that it keeps you wondering rather than have a perfect ending for all the characters. I’d love to see some of these characters re-appear in Veronica’s future novels. A recommended cosy read for cold nights from me!
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