Spare Brides by Adele Parks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The 1920s: a time of hope, promise - and parties. But not all the men came home, after The War.
Meet the spare brides.
Young, gorgeous - and unexpectedly alone.
Ava relishes the freedom of being single.
Sarah fears no one can replace her hero husband.
Beatrice finds it hard to shine, next to her dazzling friends.
And Lydia is married, rich, privileged: so isn't she one of the lucky ones?
Then a chance encounter changes everything.
Angry, damaged and dangerously attractive, Edgar Trent is an irresistable temptation.
And the old rules no longer apply...
Spare Brides is essentially about four upper class ladies and their adjustment to life after WW1. Friends who have previously lead silly giddy lives where the most difficult decision they have had to make in a day is what dress or shoes they should wear suddenly are given responsibility, jobs and a purpose in life. In reality this is a book about awakening, friendship, the search for direction and happiness and Adele Parks takes us on a journey that changes each of these women's lives forever.
The characters are flawed before the war but these flaws are made all the more visible to themselves and those around them when the war ends and the heavy price that victory has cost them is painfully brought home to them with the loss of loved ones, and the realisation that nothing will ever be the same again.
With thousands of men lost, and damaged and crippled survivors coming home this means challenges for everyone. For the upper class women it means fewer husbands available forcing those who don't find marriage the turmoil of what they will do with their lives, they have no purpose and no direction. Beatrice falls into this unenviable category; sister to Sarah whose husband is killed in the war leaving her with two children to bring up alone, Bea was hoping to find happiness and marriage before the war but being less attractive than other girls her 'coming out' was a disaster due to the start of the war and dashed all her hopes of happiness. Her story is of loneliness and tragic acceptance to a life of emptiness. Then there's Sarah who loses the love of her life and spends every day mourning for him and trying to bring up two children alone. Sarah and Bea become the 'spare parts' and looked on with pity, being offered invitations to events as a courtesy.
We meet the beautiful Ava, enchanting, mesmerising, scandalous, vivacious, most of the men lust after her and most of the women secretly envy her. Seemingly a frivolous and self-centered flapper, Ava is a much more complex and fragile character than she first appears. War work has given these women some purpose in life and they are enjoying their new found freedom it's inconceivable that things can return to the way they were before the war and of course they can't. Ava doesn't just want to be a wife she wants to have a career or make a difference in this new world. She is absolutely determined not to end up like Bea just because she doesn't want to marry, she wants a career. She fights to find herself and surprisingly uses her new found courage to help her friends not least Bea to find strength within themselves to try something new.
Then there's Lydia; having made a successful marriage to Lord Chatfield and soon to become a Countess when her father-in-law dies, she is tormented by being unable to produce an heir although she is envied by others as she is spared the grief of losing a husband to war. When she is drawn to Edgar Trent it is difficult for those who know her to believe she would be willing to sacrifice a husband and grand lifestyle that the others most want for what they believe to be a silly infatuation. To her friends it seems equally unfair that she should have two men when some women have none. She embarks on a dangerous affair but learns a lot about herself along the way and what really is important in her life.
Beautifully written, Adele Parks does not disappoint in this novel. Passionate and at times poignant she takes the reader through the giddy, lavishness of pre war frivolous trophy women and pompess Victorian men to a very different country post WW1. Four friends each with their own secrets and desires, each facing their own demons and trying to adjust to a post war life that is trying to hold on to the old values while having to move forward into the new world where social boundaries were blurred and embracing change was frightening and exhilarating in equal measure.
Returning soldiers who managed to come back relatively intact had the pick of the 'spare brides' leaving no room for those less fortunate plain women. My heart ached for Bea the wallflower when the war ended, with no great looks or dowry to rely on she has to face the painful realisation that she'll be left on the shelf and die an old maid. Parks takes us from the eager intelligent puppy like girl to the resigned, often humiliated and wary woman that she becomes.
But this novel is not all doom and gloom; there are some unexpected twists and turns which I won't reveal that go on to make this a satisfying and happy read. Each of the four characters are well developed; it is easy to identify and sympathise with them all and each one brings something fragile and raw to the story to touch your heart. It seems that the war fought on the front was a prelude to the war that inevitably has to take place once the men return and the fighting is over. This war did change lives forever, it opened up opportunities, it broke down social barriers, it left families destroyed by the horror of war and the guilt of profiteering from it but it also meant new beginnings which comes across very well in this novel. It was awful, it was brutal, the struggles of both men and women during this time were monumental and Adele Parks deals with this brilliantly in her book.
I have to give this book a 5 star rating, it was beautifully written, brutally honest, heartbreakingly real but mostly it was a book that I would not have wanted to miss - it would make a great film. You have to read it.
I would like to thank the publisher for sending this in exchange for an honest review.