Monday 13 March 2017

An Unsuitable Marriage by Colette Dartford

Published by Zaffre on March 9, 2017

I love a book about realistic, flawed characters without perfect families or perfect relationships. Books about people who make mistakes. I was drawn to An Unsuitable Marriage from the blurb, the idea of Olivia working as a houseparent in her son’s boarding school, the mistake that Geoffrey makes… The blurb sounds fascinating but I found An Unsuitable Marriage to be even more compelling than that. I spent a very lazy morning in bed reading this book and found it thoroughly engaging. Set at a gentle pace, the story inside is anything but, with mishaps and hardship throughout.

The beginning of the book surprised me. It was not what I had been expecting and I did briefly feel like I had picked up the wrong paperback. But the further I got into the book, the more I understood the opening, though not fully, I must admit! One thing in particular I enjoyed about this book was how all the characters and all the strands of the story all linked together intricately. This book is not necessarily light reading as it touches on some dark and ultimately thought-provoking themes and I was caught off-guard a few times with what happened, which I loved.

Geoffrey, Olivia and Edward appear to be your typical happy family. Olivia and Geoffrey are a happy couple and Edward is their clever and kind son. But Geoffrey’s factory has gone bust and without that income, they are forced to move in with Rowena, Geoffrey’s mum. She doesn’t have the best relationship with Olivia and living with her puts a strain on Olivia’s marriage. Her and Geoffrey argue more, they no longer have sex and as Olivia begins working at the boarding school, they barely see each other anymore either.

I liked the boarding school setting to this book. It contributed so much to the book rather than simply being the backdrop. It was the boarding school that meant that sometimes Olivia babied Edward a little too much and embarrassed him in front of his friends. It was the boarding school setting which meant that Olivia and Geoffrey didn’t see or speak to each other as much as a typical married couple should, what with the disastrous reception and the very little time away from the job there was for Olivia to make a phonecall anyway. There is a whole lot more that comes from the boarding school too, but this is a book that deserves to be read and not spoiled in a review.

I have had Colette Dartford’s debut Learning to Speak American waiting patiently on my Kindle for ages. Now, having read An Unsuitable Marriage, I cannot wait to start reading it. I loved Colette’s writing and her storytelling. The ways she builds up the story and leaves me eager to know what happens next. The chapters in this book are longer than I would normally read. Initially I thought this would put me off as I am a big fan of short chapters, but there are breaks in all the chapters and, as I soon found out, I didn’t want to stop reading An Unsuitable Marriage once, so I probably wouldn’t have noticed had there been no chapters at all.

As much as I did enjoy reading this book, however, there was so much more I thought it could deliver. I finished reading it with so many unanswered questions and things I would have liked to have seen developed more. From Freddie, to the suspected bullying, to the secret in the middle of Lorna and Johnny, to the grief Rowena is feeling... I would have liked to have learnt more about all of them. I really did love the ending but it had me wishing that some of the gaps had been filled in earlier. I don’t necessarily need a book to have all its loose-ends tied up, in fact I often prefer them otherwise. But when I find a book as thought-provoking as this one, I do like a few more answers!

An Unsuitable Marriage is a gripping tale of relationships – the marital kind and the sordid kind – as well as an insight into a family and the little pieces that make or break them. The author really captures the essence of a marriage filled with miscommunications, lies and secrets, just as well as she writes about a mother’s bond with her son. I was captivated by this story and sad to see it come to an end.

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