by Sherry Thomas, historical (2009)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59243-6
One of these days, I am going to fall in love completely and irrevocably with a book by Sherry Thomas. One day, that is. Unfortunately, Not Quite A Husband is not going to be that book. Still, I have hope. I am confident that the day will come because Ms Thomas is easily one of the most technically accomplished new authors I've come across since Judy Cuevas. She paints pictures with her words, haunting portraits of breaking hearts and shattered trust. One day, she would paint an equally mesmerizing portrait of fools falling in love. As the boys and girls of McKinley High's Glee Club would say, I won't stop believing and I will hold on to that feeling.
Bryony Asquith and Leo Marsden's marriage broke apart as quickly as they made the decision to walk down the aisle. You'll find out the reason for this as you read the story, so I won't be spilling the reason here, sorry. Today, Bryony is a doctor who has left London to forget her past and find herself in the remote areas of India. When the story opens, she is surprised when Leo shows up at her camp, telling her that he has come to escort her back to England to meet her dying father. It's a long way back to England, and therefore there is plenty of time for flashbacks, introspection, and falling in love, this time for real because they barely knew each other the first time around.
Not Quite A Husband is similar to the author's previous two books in the sense that we have an estranged couple making another go at a relationship. The author utilizes the same technique of incorporating flashbacks in her story, and she also focuses almost exclusively on her characters' feelings to the point that falling in love seems to be an afterthought to self-discovery and epiphany. Therefore I am not too surprised that my reaction to this book is pretty similar to my reaction to the previous book. I enjoy reading this story, but I view it more as a story about character study than a romantic tale. There is a distant, I feel, between me and the characters that prevents me from becoming viscerally engaged in the tale.
Intellectually, I love the story. But I don't feel while reading it. I never laugh, cry, or even sigh a little, and I don't know whether the problem is me or this book, sigh. Perhaps it's me because personally, I wouldn't go back to Leo. Oh, it's not that he's a cartoon asshole. My reservation here is due to the fact that Leo hurts Bryony too easily - he says cutting things too freely and he falls as quickly into love as he falls out of love. Perhaps he does love Bryony, but I don't trust him. He could be the sweetest poet in the world (and in this story, sometimes he is), he can make love until the heroine has an out of body experience, but I'm not convinced that he will be tolerable to deal with the next time they encounter another conflict in their relationship. Perhaps Ms Thomas feels the same, because she has an epilogue here that oddly enough focuses on Leo when the bulk of the story focuses on Bryony's point of view - maybe she feels the need to reassure me that Leo remains constant and devoted to Bryony to the end of their lives.
The story contains some moments that feel mawkish and sentimental. The heroine's scene with her father, for example, is straight out of a tearjerker cliché handbook. The author also utilizes the Letters From Dead People plot device to reassure our heroine that she should open her heart to love again. Not to mention, Bryony has to nurse Leo who is suffering from malaria. Everyone knows that it's easier to pity a man when he is on his back, groaning from pain, and I'd wish Ms Thomas has taken the less predictable route and show me how Bryony reconciles with Leo without all these obvious gimmicks.
Still, no matter. Not Quite A Husband is a beautifully written story that dares to be different from other historical romances out there. I just wish that I can view this story as a masterpiece of splendid beauty. As it is, I find myself appreciating some of the more expertly staged scenes more than I enjoy the entire story. Maybe one day I'll get there. I'm in no hurry - it has been an enjoyable ride so far.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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