An Old-Fashioned Arrangement by Susie Vereker

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An Old-Fashioned Arrangement by Susie Vereker

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: An unusual plot, set in Geneva. Kim, a fairly conventional housewife, agrees to a very unusual contract in order to support herself and her son James after her husband vanishes. She learns a lot about herself in the process.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 311 Date: September 2006
Publisher: Transita
ISBN: 978-1905175284

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Kim, whose husband travels a lot, isn't worried that she hasn't heard from him for a while. Then two people from his company arrive on her doorstep and tell her that he's missing, feared dead.

It's the kind of opening that seems to appear fairly often in modern novels, but Kim's circumstances are rather different from the norm. For one thing, she's living in Geneva, in a house rented by her husband's company. In the absence of her husband, she will soon be homeless. Secondly, she has no living relatives, and few friends, since she has moved quite a bit over the years. Besides that, she has no means of support, other than some cash stashed away in the wardrobe, and one or two pupils learning English, who pay her very little.

Kim's main concern is James, her 11-year-old son, and his need for security and continuity. She doesn't miss her husband - as the book progresses it becomes clear that she cares very little about him - but not surprisingly she's in shock after hearing about his apparent demise.

Enter Henri, their landlord and neighbour. He's a charming and elderly roué who has always rather liked Kim as well as being friendly with James. He proposes an "arrangement" of the sort which was apparently common in Regency times, but which even in today's society seems a little shocking. Particularly to Kim, who is somewhat conventional. Despite some strong qualms, she agrees - primarily for the sake of James. The rest of the book doesn't actually focus hugely on this arrangement, but it's the beginning of Kim's emancipation and self-discovery.

I have slightly mixed feelings about the book. I enjoyed the story - it's light-hearted with serious overtones, set in a society I know very little about; there's sufficient detail to make it interesting, not too much to be boring. It's plot-driven with several fast-moving subplots, which isn't my personal preference in novels, but I did find myself reading fairly compulsively: wondering how on earth the situations would be resolved. I was also intrigued to know what would happen when Kim's husband reappeared, as I was sure he would.

On the other hand, I would have liked the characters to be stronger and more believable. James was a delightful child, and Henri a most likeable neighbour; I felt I wanted to get to know them better, but neither is very well-developed. Most of Kim's friends are caricatures - not a problem, as they're mostly there to provide a bit of light relief - and Mark, a young man who becomes important later in the plot, is something of a typecast hero figure. None of that would have mattered if I had been able to relate well to Kim. But although I could share some of her concerns - my children are important to me, too - I couldn't quite believe that she would be so naive at the start of the story. Nor could I quite come to terms with the way she changed so very rapidly.

For me personally, I'd give three and a half stars. But many people enjoy plot-driven books, and it was certainly readable and enjoyable, in the chick-lit-for-older-women genre, so I'll allocate four Bookbag stars.

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