Monday, June 21, 2021

Book Review: A Second-Hand Husband

By Sara Steven

Natalie and Carl are newlyweds, but the honeymoon period is over already.

Carl has just announced he has bought their first home at auction without telling Natalie where it is, never mind showing her a picture of it.

Natalie is horrified to discover that the dream home is in Little Wyford, mere minutes away from Carl’s ex-wife Antonia. And to make matters worse, Antonia’s palatial country mansion has a fully-functioning roof (and a heated swimming pool!), unlike the ramshackle cottage Carl has bought for them…

Antonia is Little Wyford’s Queen Bee, mistress of the book club, organiser of the Christmas Fair and leader of the ladies-who-lunch. No matter how hard she tries, Natalie just doesn’t fit in, and when Antonia insists on referring to Carl as ‘Our Husband’, Natalie’s dreams of happily-ever-after take another nose dive.

Second-hand furniture has much to recommend it, especially when doing up a country cottage, second-hand clothes can be ever-so chic, but second-hand husbands are proving to be a very bad idea indeed… Can Natalie ever escape the label of Wife Number Two or is she destined to share her husband forever? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

While A Second-Hand Husband provides plenty of story surrounding Natalie and Carl, I felt the bigger story was on Natalie and Antonia. Coming from my own background and experience as “Wife Number Two,” as well as having a former spouse who is remarried, I could completely relate to Natalie. In the beginning of any relationship, particularly in her shoes given the quick walk to the altar with Carl, she has obvious questions and preconceived notions on what the ex-wife is like, and when there are stepchildren involved, it’s hard to know how to fit into a situation that already feels settled and in place.

Natalie explains in great detail where some of her insecurities have come from, and why she can’t help but feel compelled to compare herself to Antonia. It doesn’t help that Carl isn’t supportive and due to his character makeup, he doesn’t seem to know how to communicate well or be there for his new wife. For many chapters, Carl was obnoxious and overbearing, and didn’t seem to take anything that Natalie had to say into consideration. He bought a home for the both of them, without any input or thought from Natalie. Who does that? Apparently Carl. He’d often flip flop from unsupportive husband to attempting to appease and soothe Natalie when he’d upset her, and we’d see glimpses of the man he could become, if he’d only get over himself. 

There was a huge contrast between his motives, and Natalie’s. But both characters have deep fears that make them react that way. For Carl, if he steamrolls over everyone, it means he’s important, because for so long, he’s felt like he’s lacking. And for Natalie, she just goes along with whatever someone else wants her to do, so that she’ll feel acceptance. Then there’s Antonia, who portrays herself to be perfect, but she’s anything but. It creates moments of drama and tension, and particularly towards the end of the story, I wasn’t sure what would happen--if Natalie would have her fill of being “Number Two.”

What I could see, though, were the changes over time that manifested within the pages of A Second-Hand Husband, for all three characters, for better or for worse. It made for an interesting, funny--at times, painfully so-- and intense read with plenty of moments that led to growth and change, and I really appreciated that.

Thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Claire Calman is a writer and broadcaster known for her novels that combine wit and pathos, including the bestseller Love is a Four-Letter Word. She has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Loose Ends. Her first book for Boldwood was published in June 2020.

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