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Book DetailsISBN: 9780143787556
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Book Review: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband by Barbara Toner - Reviewed by CloggieA (23 Feb 2018)
5 stars “Four respectable ladies in friendly country town seek part-time husband. Must have knowledge of the law, banking, horses and bush skills as well as a grasp of boxing, farming and retail. Salary by agreement. Contact PO Box 293, Sydney.”
Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband is the eighth novel by Australian author, Barbara Toner. Part-time HUSBAND? Well, it’s true, the advertisement should not have been worded like that. They were four respectable ladies: a wife, a war widow, a fiancée and an orphan, and only one of them openly admitted to wanting a husband.
But it was September, 1919: the influenza pandemic, on top of a brutal war, had severely depleted the male population of Prospect, NSW, and there were still so many things a lady was not permitted to do. And they were, each of them, in dire straits of various descriptions, so they did need a man. It had been Pearl McCleary’s off-hand remark, but Louisa Worthington and Maggie O’Connell quickly agreed, and even Adelaide Nightingale came around to the idea eventually.
They managed to keep the whole thing under wraps, and had a respectable relationship (cousin) and lodgings all worked out ahead of time. The man they got was undoubtedly handsome, and he seemed willing, but could he actually do what was needed? And whose problem to tackle first?
Toner’s main characters are strong women who have weak moments and make an unwise decision, or two. In facing their challenges, each is mostly focussed on their own problems to the exclusion of those of the other three. And while there are spates of candidness between them, they are, sometimes to their detriment, not inclined to reveal everything, due to a lack of trust or petty grievances or grudges over past wrongs.
Toner portrays this early twentieth century country town wonderfully well. There are a lot of minor characters to keep track of, it’s true, but these are what make the town, and their pretentiousness, their gossiping, their shifting loyalties, all these convey the mood of the times with consummate ease. Toner wraps her delightful tale in some marvellous descriptive prose, and her ending is not Hollywood, but definitely perfect.
The title of this novel immediately intrigues, and Toner certainly delivers on that. Her plot is original, and far from predictable. This a story with plenty of humour, but also some heartache. There are hidden legal documents, horse-thieves, heroes and villains. It all builds towards an exciting climax with guns and a fire and bravery and quick thinking and several arrests. Excellent Australian historical fiction.
Barbara Toner is an acclaimed author and columnist who has written extensively about the lot of women in all its manifestations, with all its glorious and less glorious intricacies, both in fiction and non-fiction. She has three daughters and divides her time between England and the far south coast of New South Wales.
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