Title: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband
Author: Barbara Toner
Published: January 29th 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Historical Fiction, Australian
Rating: 4 stars
It’s September 1919. The war is over, and everyone who was going to die from the flu has done so. But there’s a shortage of husbands and women in strife will flounder without a male to act on their behalf.
And in the southern New South Wales town of Prospect, four ladies bereft of men have problems that threaten to overwhelm them.
Beautiful Louisa Worthington, whose dashing husband died for King and Country, is being ruined by the debts he left behind.
Young Maggie O’Connell, who lost her mother in childbirth and her father to a redhead, is raising her two wayward brothers and fighting for land she can’t prove is hers.
Adelaide Nightingale has a husband, but he’s returned from the war in a rage and is refusing to tackle the thieving manager of their famous family store.
Pearl McCleary, Adelaide’s new housekeeper, must find her missing fiancé before it’s too late and someone dies.
Thank God these desperate ladies have a solution: a part-time husband who will rescue them all. To find him, they’ll advertise. To afford him, they’ll share . . .
Australian author Barbara Toner has released a new historical fiction title that comes with an ultra catchy title, Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband. This book, put simply, is just a wonderful ode to female friendship, gender and the social mores that existed in post World War I. With light and dark areas, the issues presented in Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband are told with a delicate balance of both conviction and humour.
Barbara Toner grounds her latest novel in the year 1919, in a tiny rural township called Prospect, in New South Wales. Following the end of World War I and the subsequent onset of the Spanish Flu, many men have not returned home. The lucky few who have returned home find their minds ravaged by the things they have seen and done in the war. Prospect is no different to many other towns in Australia that have been touched by war at this point in history. One of the impacts of the war is the distinct lack of husbands. For many women, such as the characters in this novel, it was quite overwhelming to try to keep up with the demands of the roles which were previously occupied by men. Four women from Prospect recognise this problem and decide to act in a decisive manner. Together, this foursome will advertise for a part-time husband, which they will share between them, in the hope that he can rescue them from their individual woes. It is a ludicrous idea, attracting community scorn, but will it work?
The title of this novel is so eye catching and it immediately attracted me to this novel. However, for me personally, the era presented in this book, post World War I, is what initially encouraged me to select this novel to read. Barbara Toner has done a remarkable job with her setting. She offers the reader a wonderful evocation of 1919, small town Australia. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband is a novel that has so much to say about the female condition, the intricacies of friendship and the moral codes of Australia’s past.
Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband offers a solid contribution to the Australian historical fiction genre, providing a superb study of post World War I Australian society. Toner’s prose is refined and accurately reflective of the era in which it is set, 1919. Toner also has a wonderful way with words. I enjoyed her mix of tongue in cheek humour at pertinent times in the novel, which offsets the more serious elements tackled within this book. These issues range from PTSD, to blackmail and sole parenting duties. Toner tackles each and every one of these delicate issues with great care.
The highlight of Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband, was the historical representation of the era and locale in which the book is set. Toner paints a vivid picture of life just after the war. She makes us wholly aware of the losses experienced by many towns in Australia, through her focus on Prospect, a small town in rural New South Wales. On top of this excellent recreation of 1919, Toner also takes the time to show us the problematics of this time, especially in regards to gender. Toner explores the tensions that existed and fallout that occurred during a time where women were struggling to be seen and heard, while men were adjusting to normality after the horrors of the war. It certainly was a difficult time indeed, which understandably gives rise to the interesting main scenario presented in Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband.
This novel is very much driven by the four characters or ‘respectable ladies’. Adelaide, Louisa, Maggie and Pearl are all fully fleshed out characters. I enjoyed exploring their individual back stories and uncovering their secrets. We witness their ups and downs, which comes complete with plenty of drama, frivolity and a touch of romance along the way. It really was a fascinating and resourceful community, full of moments of comradery. By the book’s close, thanks to Toner’s fine characterisation efforts, I felt I had a firm grasp on each woman’s individual tendencies. I came to admire different aspects of all the main characters that appear in this book. And, I definitely wasn’t keen to say goodbye to this fine group of ladies. Thank goodness Toner has plans for a follow up edition to this grand novel!
It is clear that Toner had fun writing this novel. The enthusiasm she applies to her plot and her characters was evident throughout my time with Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband. I am pleased to hear we will get another turn with the ladies from Prospect. I look forward to this welcome sequel with anticipation.
Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband by Barbara Toner was published on January 29th 2018 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband, Barbara Toner, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband is book #8 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge