Wives and Lovers: Jane Elizabeth Varley

Afternoon readers, today I’ve something a little different for you. I often take a book back with me on my weekly trips back to my childhood home back in Silverstone but I’ve almost always finished the books, so I’m lost on the train back home leading me to raid the shelves at home for something to read. I picked this up because it was small and perfectly sized for my bag (I rarely have a lot of room for books) and after a little research saw that this was published back in 2006. I’ve been reading this for a couple of days now and although it hasn’t really pulled my attention so I can’t put it down it’s been a lovely breezy read that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Victoria Stratford’s birthday party for her ambitious husband David shows off their beautiful Wimbledon house, their wonderful children, their perfect lives. But while Victoria welcomes her guests, the only person missing is David himself. Victoria’s sister Clara and her husband Tom are at the party. Unworldly and idealistic, Tom scorns David’s quest for wealth. While Clara is content with her job as a university lecturer, she yearns for a change in her life. In the garden, the youngest sister Annie talks to her husband Hugo. Very happy together, the only blight on their lives is Hugo’s mother, whose jealousy and possessiveness have turned into a poisonous hatred of Annie. So begins a train of events that will lead each sister down a different path – towards love, sex, grief, betrayal and happiness.

As the blurb describes the book follows the lives of three sisters, Victoria, Clara and Annie, each going through a particularly difficult time in their lives namely revolving around their relationships. Victoria is struggling with her obsession with presenting a perfect picture of her life, mainly her marriage, her home, her children and her status. However her husband David is becoming both secretive and uncouth towards her causing her to re-evaluate everything she’s given up for him. Annie is going through an incredibly tough stretch after the death of her adored husband Hugo. Failing to live without him, her daughter Elizabeth seems the better for it and the strain of this and the constant bickering of her sisters is making her life a misery. Clara is finding her husband Tom more and more unpleasant and her eye is wandering to one of her students. As expected this leads to a wonderfully interweaving tale of love and life.

I really enjoyed this book, it’s not a wild tale but it was a joy to read both in terms of characterisation and storyline. Clara is a character with two sides, both a little cautious and thoughtful but also passionate and enthusiastic. Seeing her grow throughout is a pleasure to watch. Annie is a sweet natured character who hits rock bottom and isn’t quite sure how to find her feet. She’s delightfully honest and seeing how she deals with the trouble around her although a little heart-breaking at times makes for an interesting read. Victoria, my favourite of the bunch is constantly finding herself between a rock and a hard place. Neither happy with her relationship with David but constantly try to forgive and look for the reasons why he’s being so unfair she is a wonderfully intelligent but equally hostile character. The three of them help create a lot of contrast making the book incredibly enjoyable. Additionally all the minor supporting characters are wonderfully described to help support the main characters.

The plot weaves incredibly well through so many different plot lines; as well as the ones mentioned above there are also plots of David’s career move into the Tory party, and a constant discussion of class and status within each of the story lines especially between the sisters. It’s very meticulously written and the author doesn’t miss a beat throughout. The author also uses the sex scenes as a way to differentiate between the ‘wives, and lovers,’ and there are a number of wonderful scenes that really contrast this. The information on the inner workings of the Tory party is well written, although I assume less than accurately true to this day now, but it’s interesting to read and as a fictional writing it’s a wonderful thing to read. The tales of the ladies who lunch and the luxuries of the wealthy contrast darkly with the struggles of the ethnic minority youth in the Inner City helping to form the modern world that sets the backdrop for the story.

I really enjoyed this book and I can’t wait to read more from Varley. Her barrister background is rather evident throughout especially in the discussions of the selection meetings which I found very enjoyable. I think what really makes this book work is that it doesn’t feel like a chick-lit but instead but instead an very complex tale that includes so much more than a good romance story which made it the perfect read for my journey back to the rather sour Stoke-on-Trent

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