Simon & Schuster, £6.99, ISBN 978-1-4711-3417-3
Contemporary Fiction, 1997 (Reissue)
Mike James believes that he has the perfect marriage. He loves his wife Cleo, who is devoted to him. As a casting director in an advertising agency, he also gets to sleep with the aspiring models that catch his fancy, as well as Cleo’s best friend, her other best friend, and that woman, and this woman, and that one… His cozy life comes to a crashing halt when Cleo stumbles upon one of his assignments – with her friend, naturally – and decides to use her upcoming trip to London as an opportunity to decide what she wants to do next. As it happens, there are several handsome men vying for her attention. Mike generously decides to give his wife some time to stew, as he’s confident that she’d come around and come back to him. He waits, and waits, and… what the hell is wrong with that woman? Men have needs, you know!
Meanwhile, aspiring model Muffin has a taste of success. Her handler and boyfriend Jon is married, but that’s okay. She pressures him to dump that woman and marry her, but Jon isn’t keen on doing this. If he files for divorce, his wife would take him to the cleaners. However, he needs to placate Muffin because she’s his key to fame and wealth. Oh, what is he to do?
You’d think The World is Full of Divorced Women is a playful skewering of married men who couldn’t keep their zips closed, but it’s actually a far more depressing kind of story. It’s about how women hate other women. When the paths of Muffin and Cleo do intersect, Cleo wants to take Muffin down just because. In fact, Cleo is one of the most chauvinist, for the want of a better word, heroines I’ve come across. She treats her so-called best friends like complete dirt, so it’s actually kind of satisfying to see Cleo realize that she’s the last to know, and those friends are cheerfully boinking her husband behind her back. She has this “I’m better than other women” vibe around her, so much so that her first reaction to any attractive female – no, make that anything female – that can pose a competition for the men that share the same oxygen as her is a combo of smug disdain and cattiness. Let me put this way: she is willing to stay close to a man who raped her, and she would have taken her husband back despite repeated evidence that he is still cheating on her – at least until Mike really screws up spectacularly – but she immediately cuts off all contact with any woman who offends her even the slightest, even if that woman has no clue what has happened and the enmity is all in Cleo’s mind. She’s that kind of heroine, so it’s hard to muster even a little interest in wanting to see her get a leg up over her husband. You know she will not hesitate to backstab any woman if she feels that it would get a man’s attention focused on her.
Muffin is a more adorable heroine – she’s selfish, manipulative, and greedy, but she is also pretty gullible and she is looking for “true love”. Unfortunately, this only leads her to a path that sees her getting used and humiliated, at least until Ms Collins decides to throw her a bone and give her a happy ending that is still tinged with exploitation.
At any rate, The World is Full of Divorced Women is a story of how women are their own worst enemies. It’s quite the depressing read, although I suppose readers going through a post-breakup phase where they are still blaming the other woman for stealing their men may enjoy the abundance of female-hating-female vibes courtesy of that horrid bitter hag called Cleo.