New Year’s Eve, 1920. The Great War is over and it’s a new decade of glamorous promise. But a generation of men and women who survived the extreme trauma and tragedy will never be the same.
With countless men lost, it seems that only wealth and beauty will secure a husband from the few who returned, but lonely Beatrice has neither attribute. Ava has both, although she sees marriage as a restrictive cage after the freedom war allowed. Sarah paid the war’s ultimate price: her husband’s life. Lydia should be grateful that her own husband’s desk job kept him safe, but she sees only his cowardice.
A chance encounter for one of these women with a striking yet haunted officer changes everything. In a world altered beyond recognition, where not all scars are visible, this damaged and beautiful group must grasp any happiness they can find – whatever the cost.
I’ve been a fan of Adele Parks’ writing since her very first novel, Playing Away, way back in 2000. Her character driven stories dealing with the very real issues challenging women in their daily lives are always engaging and beautifully written, looking at motherhood, infidelity and love. When Georgina at her publishers Headline Review offered me a copy of her latest, Spare Brides, for review, I just couldn’t wait. This one is a real departure – not the modern lives and problems she does so well, but a tale set in the 1920s. How would her story telling translate to a historical setting? But I really needn’t have worried – this book was wonderful, a recreation of a totally different age, replete with period detail and wonderful frocks, and a storyline appropriate to the period but dealing with the same issues that affect women no matter what the setting.
All four women are strong characters and beautifully drawn. Lydia stands naked waiting to be dressed by her long-suffering lady’s maid – at this stage in the book, she comes across as spoilt, shallow, beautiful on the outside but less so within, settled uncomfortably in a marriage that will deliver her a secure future, but with real resentment for her husband’s danger-free wartime experience. Ava is the independent girl about town, seeking some direction and purpose. Beatrice is the unattractive one, anticipating life on the shelf and hoping for love to find her from even the most unlikely sources. And then there’s Sarah – widowed in the war, having known love, now something of a spare part at most gatherings. The introduction of Edgar throws their lives into turmoil, and as the story plays through the individual characters develop in a really fascinating way.
I’d highly recommend this one, whether your preference is for modern or historical. If the former, the character development will keep you hooked – these are women tackling issues that are constant and timeless. If the latter, the book’s setting is quite wonderfully drawn – the lives of the rich and privileged (and the not so privileged) drawn in wonderful well-researched detail. I loved this change of direction for the author – and it’s a great page turner too.
Spare Brides is available from 13th February in all formats – and I have to say that the cover is quite beautiful.
Adele Parks was born in Teesside, and studied English Language and Literature, at Leicester University. She published her first novel, Playing Away, in 2000; that year the Evening Standard identified Adele as one of London’s ‘Twenty Faces to Watch.’ Indeed Playing Away was the debut bestseller of 2000. Spare Brides is her fourteenth novel. She has written numerous articles and short stories for many magazines and newspapers and often appears on radio and TV talking about her work. Adele has spent her adult life in Italy, Botswana and London, up until two years ago when she moved to Guildford, where she now lives with her husband and son.