REVIEW: Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas
Dear Ms. Thomas:
Thank you for sending me a copy of your third book. Not Quite a Husband treats the reader to the same rich and evocative prose that filled the pages of your previous two works. In mentioning new historical authors to be excited about, your name should always mentioned.
Bryony Asquith, the granddaughter of an Earl, was an extraordinary woman who fell in love with an extraordinary man, Quentin Leonidas Marsden, the youngest son of the Earl of Wyden. He was a brilliant mathematical mind who was published and presented at the mathematical society; and she was a surgeon, one of few women practicing medicine, particular one of the few women born of her lineage who actually worked.
While the lede of this review might be their accomplishments, the existence of the accomplisments tell more about the characters than the accomplishments themselves. Bryony chose to be a surgeon not so much because she loved saving people but because it was nearly a necessity for her. Bryony had grown up alone without companionship and in order to survive she withdrew well within herself, drawing a cloak of self sufficiency so tight around her that not even Leo could tear it down.
Leo’s facility with math extended beyond schooling into every aspect of his life. It all came very easy for him. He was an Adonis, witty and beautiful, feted and admired. He published journaled accounts of his travels, read papers at the mathematical society, and generally held the world in the palm of his hand.
Yet one evening, he kissed Bryony in the library of his brother’s home. This kiss and the following flirtation gave Bryony the courage to propose to Leo and Leo, who had been in love with Bryony since forever readily accepted:
And he had taken an unbelievable amount of ribbing for it when he’d announced their engagement to his brothers. Matthew had cabled from Paris and Charlie all the way from Gilgit to say the same thing: Lord Almighty, she was Mary and you were Baby Jesus.
Yet on the eve of their marriage, Leo realized that something was wrong. When he made love to Bryony she resisted all pleasure. She lay there with her hands fisted by her side, refusing even the most tender of kisses. It continued in this vein until Bryony asked for an annulment after a year of misery. She had once dreamed of growing old together:
She had a sudden vision of herself as a wizened old physician, her hands too arthritic to wield a scalpel, her eyes too rheumy to diagnose anything except measles and chicken pox. The wizened old physician would very much like to drink tea next to her wizened old professor, chuckle over the passionate follies of their distant youth, and then go for a walk along the river Cam, holding his paper-dry, liver-spotted hand.
The story actually begins with Leo tracking Bryony down in India to inform her that her father is ill and she is turn return to London forthwith. Bryony doesn’t believe the warnings given that her sister Callista was prone to sending all kinds of telegrams to both Bryony and Leo in hopes of reuniting them. Something changes her mind and Bryony and Leo begin the journey from Rumbur Valley in the Northwest Frontier of India to Nowshera, Imran. The journey is long, arduous and frought with danger and for the first time, Bryony and Leo reveal themselves to each other in ways that were never explored in all their time during childhood, courtship, and marriage.
I’m fascinated with all marriage in trouble stories. They address what happens after the happily ever after. If the courtship books give hope of the finding the perfect mate; then marriage in trouble books give hope that the happiness is truly forever, even in the face of some of the most difficult circumstances.
The reason for their unhappy marriage is not revealed for some time so I’ll not spoil it here, but suffice it to say that the source of the marital strife was real. But the resolution of the marital separation seemed too convenient for me.
When Bryony and Leo first reconvene, their physical relationship almost immediately restarts which seemed odd given that Bryony had barred Leo from her bedroom after their first year of marriage and they had been separated for three years. Another thing that was problematic for me was that it appears that Bryony and Leo’s revelations that nothing in their past should or could keep them apart were induced by traumatic events. In other words, would they have been able to overcome their doubts in each other had it not been for the fact that one or the other could have truly been lost instead of just separated?
I believed in the two as a couple, felt their chemistry, and appreciated the richness of the setting; but I thought the way in which the two resolved their differences seemed to without understandable motivation. I kept asking myself why Bryony, after all this time, would suddenly throw herself at Leo. Why she was ready, emotionally, to put herself in his hands? I didn’t see the process of recovery myself. Was it just by stint of the long separation? Maybe that she was tired of being alone?
I also felt that Bryony did not truly accept responsibility for her own actions. She admitted that she married Leo, in part, to show everyone else how loveable she truly was. His insecurity was fed, in part, by the feeling that he was sometimes more of a show horse and less of a loved one. In truth, Bryony was not pure of intention although that in no way excuses Leo’s actions. However, I felt like there should have been some acknowledgment on Bryony’s part of her own culpability.
Those concerns aside, I still loved the writing. There are so many quotable phrases but one of my favorite was this:
He wanted it, how he’d wanted it, that newlywed idyll they never had, that halcyon of mad corporeal infatuation. If he had it, a year, a month, or even a solid week of it, he could change her, repair the misalignment of their temperaments, and remold their marriage into something lovely and worthwhile.
Instead she banished him altogether. They grew further and further apart. And their marriage dissolved like a pearl in vinegar.
I loved how the prologue and the epilogue were written in the same sort of detached omniscient point of view and acted as true bookends for the story of Bryony and Leo. I also appreciated that you gave us some time enjoying Bryony and Leo in love together, rebinding themselves to each other. Few authors give us the big, dramatic payoff like you. B-
This book can be purchased in mass market from an independent bookstore or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.