Goodness. And I thought I had some interesting in-laws to deal with, what with the whole being asked to sleep in cemeteries thing, helping to prepare for the end of the world, nodding along with Chinese karaoke, ignoring my father-in-law’s penchant for getting around in a Ministry of Sound Jacket, and pretending that of course I love the taste of durian, just to name a few interesting issues that have cropped up over the past few years.
Fortunately though my in-laws are undoubtedly odd, they’re well-meaning types. And, you know, even if they were a tad on the painful side, well, a quick perusal of The Secret Life of Husbands is the antidote to all of that. Because it contains the Evil In-Laws to end all In-Laws. You have been warned.
Ruth and Ned have been dating a grand total of a few months, and being part of the instant gratification generation reckon it’s time to seal the deal. All’s fine and dandy until it comes to informing Ned’s parents, who are mildly alarming to say the least. Ned’s father has the personality of your average doormat, while his mother Jackie is the human equivalent of a steamroller that has been bathing in Jr Jekyll’s terrifying Hydean formula. Give her a few cocktails (there are always a few cocktails involved), and she’ll vacillate between whiny child and bellowing monster with metronomic frequency.
Poor Ruth. And Ned seemed such a catch.
But anyway, things are about to get a whole lot worse. Not only do they have their impending nuptials to prepare for (this book is a big, flashing sign about why it’s best to keep things simple, pay for everything yourself, and assert your independence as an adult), but there are also murky friendship waters to be traversed. Ned, you see, is part of a slightly creepily close-knit group of uni friends comprising a merry bunch of homely lads and one stunningly gorgeous woman, Erin. Ruth, though not really the jealous sort, can’t help but wonder whether Ned’s affection for Erin goes a little bit beyond friendship–and Erin doesn’t seem to be holding much back. And neither, come to think of it, does Jackie, who has no qualms at all about telling Ruth exactly what she thinks of her.
The Secret Life of Husbands, although not nearly as edgy as its title might suggest, is a pretty accomplished outing in the chick-lit genre, and if it asked, you’d merrily take a turn about the room with it. Crawford gives us a medley of complex characters to work with, and a bunch of serpentine relationships as well, and I was impressed with the facility she managed when it came to offering up plenty of shades of grey (no, not those shades–get your mind out of the gutter) in this regard. There’s a sense of the power dynamics always being on the move, with things veering from comfortable and easy over to awkward and domineering, and this is particularly fascinating where Ruth, an “outsider” in most of these relationships is involved.
I had a few qualms about the did-he-or-didn’t-he plot involving a possibly shady act on Ned’s behalf, and I’ll admit that there were, oh, perhaps several dozen times where I wanted to shake some sense into dear Ruth for being a kind English rose and not the rude Australian that I must surely be given that I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to the sorts of behaviour exhibited by scary Jackie or by the cowed and wimpy Ned. Backbones, people. Use them! Things may turn out well enough, but I can only imagine the disasters that lurk for these two blinded-by-love fools once they find themselves safely past the back cover…
In all, it’s a solid inclusion in the genre–and one with nary a marketing exec or stiletto heel in sight at that–and anyone who’s ever moaned about their own in-laws will feel a heck of a lot better about their own lot in life after reading about Jackie’s shenanigans.
Rating: (very good)
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