‘Marriage and Other Games’ examines the fall-out when Charlotte Briggs’ husband Ed is found guilty of fraud. Ed ends up in prison and Charlotte runs away to a friend’s deserted and dilapidated house in an Exmoor village to escape the judgment and condemnation of her London friends and acquaintances.
It’s not long before Charlotte meets the locals, including tortured bad-boy artist Sebastian, Fitch, the dad of two having a rough time with his estranged wife, and recently divorced GP Penny, a woman holding a flame for Sebastian who immediately sees Charlotte as competition. Will time away make Charlotte regret her decision not to stand by her man, or will it give her the chance to appreciate Fitch’s charms and build a new life for herself without Ed?
I liked how the book’s storyline began by centring on Charlotte before branching out to include the dilemmas of the other, just as interesting, characters, and how the theme of forgiveness in marriage was kept running throughout.
I was shocked by Charlotte’s decision to leave her husband, especially as at first appearances, they seemed so right for each other and so happy together. The lead-up to Ed’s mistake was brilliantly done, with both he and Charlotte coming across as near perfect, successful and in love; when actually their childless state was pushing them ever further apart, and led to Ed’s misdemeanour. Not even Charlotte realised quite how much their infertility had affected her husband and their marriage.
Understandably, Charlotte went with her gut reaction when she discovered what her husband had done, and I loved how her feelings changed over time - once she’d had time for her anger to clear and had digested the various opinions she comes across of Ed’s behaviour.
Penny was definitely my least favourite of the main characters. She came across as a bit desperate and seemed determined not to appreciate what she had. Penny could also be selfish and made some poor errors of judgment, but she did show that she was capable of kindness at times. I was a little disappointed at her ending; I would have liked more completeness to it and for her to make a larger positive move towards the future.
Veronica Henry obviously has experience living in a small village, and makes great use of it here. The descriptions of village life and its inhabitants were charming, and I particularly liked how differently Charlotte’s London friends and the villagers reacted when they found out about Ed’s misdemeanours: whilst the Londoners tended to simply cut Charlotte out of their lives, the villagers were accepting and non-judgmental and become a great support network for her.
‘Marriage and Other Games’ wasn’t quite the light-hearted read I was expecting; it had a lot of depth and dealt with some complex issues, although there was a delightful touch of humour throughout. The story was realistic and was concerned with very honest relationships. Its protagonists were made easy to relate to by their innate fallibility and indeed their own realisation of it; this enabled this character-driven tale to take me on a delightful journey that I was very sorry to see end.
4 and a half stars