In brief: Tess has her life planned – or so she thought. Why then, does she desert her fiancé to marry a stranger? Trapped in a loveless marriage, Tess is alone in her new town until a polio hospital is built. Will she find what she wants in her work?
The good: Very heartfelt with some great twists.
The not-so-good: Took me a little to get into – the prologue kind of confused me.
Why I chose it: Thank you to Pan Macmillan – been ages since I read a Diane Chamberlain novel.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Setting: United States of America
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
It’s ages since I read a Diane Chamberlain novel (January 2013 according to my blog). She’s an author I always meant to read more of, but never quite got there because of all the pretty, shiny, new books calling my name. So when a copy of The Stolen Marriage arrived, I decided it was a sign. I think Diane Chamberlain’s novels are even more readable and interesting the second time round. The Stolen Marriage is historical fiction, taking in the polio epidemic, World War II, marriages that had to be and love that couldn’t be. There are a lot of issues to explore in this book and it’s well done.
The story opens somewhat confusedly for me as the prologue is set somewhere in the middle of the timeframe for the book. It tells of a sentinel event and later you can see the many things that it’s alluding to but it was difficult for me. Not to mention that one of the characters seems to be pretty familiar with automatic transmissions, which would have been in their infancy in 1944! But that aside, I continued reading and was rewarded with a great novel. Main character Tess seems to be a little bit too good to be true at first – she’s studying to become a nurse and about to marry her childhood sweetheart. Everything in her world is perfect, until a trip to Washington with a friend ends up in a drunken misdemeanour. This starts off a chain of events that has Tess change her life completely and moving to North Carolina to marry Henry, owner of a furniture factory. I found when the plot moved to the town of Hickory, I became increasingly invested in the plot. Tess is an unwelcome outsider, both to Henry’s friends and family. She needs to prove herself, but how? Every step she makes is wrong, until a polio hospital is rapidly built in town. There, Tess knows she can shine on her own, but will Henry let her?
I thought this novel would be a simple historical romance against the backdrop of the polio hospital and World War II. I was completely wrong. The novel addresses many things: the roles of women, duty to others, class and race. It also explores the different expectations put on people in the community. For example, Henry is meant to be a pillar of the community and outstanding citizen – but Tess knows his secrets. Tess is an outsider from the North, not of the ‘correct’ class or upbringing (plus, she’s Italian!) and Henry’s mother knows she will never meet the expectations of a southern lady. But Tess comes from a family that puts less emphasis on how she looks to others. She’s determined and wilful but still a product of her time (what I’m trying to say is she’s not a modern 21st century girl transported back in time, she’s an authentic character). She does things her own way to a point, but is still respectful of Henry, even though he’s a polite stranger. He helped her out, so now she must accept what she has. But Tess can’t always be thankful for her new life. She tries so hard, but she can’t see herself still in Hickory 30 years down the track. Perhaps her determination rubs off on Henry, allowing him to see possibilities outside of Hickory and its conventions.
I enjoyed the last third of The Stolen Marriage the most as the characters begin to reveal their secrets and their motivations become clear. It’s dramatic and tense, which comes across so well in the writing. The historical details were very well researched. Diane’s ability to make the historical seem contemporary through Tess’s eyes made this a stand out.