Title: Spare Brides
Author: Adele Parks
Publication date: 13th February 2014
Paperback: 416 pages
Why did I choose to read this book? With the centenary of the First World War fast-approaching there are fiction and non-fiction books being published at an alarming rate, this one happened to land on my doorstep and so I decided to have a change from the normal historical fiction and give it a quick read.
Where to read this book: Try a little trip to the reading room at the British Museum it will give you the air of the uppper classes thanks to the quiet corners your can disappear in amongst extremely regal surroundings.
Damaged and beautiful, they were the generation who lost so much and became ‘spare brides’ this is the story of four, extraordinary women left to pick up the pieces of their lives, in the scarred, glamorous and endlessly fascinating post-First World War era. With countless men lost, it seems that only wealth and beauty will secure a husband from the few who returned, but lonely Beatrice has neither attribute. Ava has both, although she sees marriage as a restrictive cage after the freedom war allowed. Sarah paid the war’s ultimate price: her husband’s life. Lydia should be grateful that her own husband’s desk job kept him safe, but she sees only his cowardice. A chance encounter for one of these women with a striking yet haunted officer changes everything. In a world altered beyond recognition, where not all scars are visible, this damaged and beautiful group must grasp any happiness they can find – whatever the cost.
Coinciding, whether opportune or calculated, with the centenary of the First World War, where everything and everyone is looking back on the impact of this event, this social reflection on the lives of four women promises to be both interesting and entertaining. Unfortunately, like with many before it, the substance lacks and the characters disappoint.
Although the story circulates a friendship group of four our attention is fundamentally drawn to Lydia. Everything in life has come easily to her, wealth, beauty and a husband of means to create a powerful match. Her husband Lawrence didn’t fight at the front therefore he’s a coward and deserves a white flower from women he passes by. This was a sad fact for the men who were forced to stay behind the front line and do other necessary war work. The redeeming feature of the story comes not from Lydia but the men surrounding her who criticise her attitude and the hero-worship she bestows on the soldiers she comes into contact. Quite rightly they attempt to educate her advising there was no glory in war, however, her fanciful ideals take her down a very different path.
My favourite of the women was in fact Bea. Being a plain girl she has had her idyllic dream of a comfortable life in the country with a husband and children ripped away from her grasp. No grandiose life plans, but ones that have equally been scuppered by the atrocities of the war and a lost generation. Unlike Lydia, she rallies and grows as a character through the pages, a progression that is reflected in her growing friendship with the appointed feminist of the group Ava.
There were strengths in the story that I appreciated and found interesting. These were largely associated with the wounded men and the imprint the war has left on them, especially with Edgar and his overwhelming anger at being royally duped. Men were forced to fight thanks to the power of ‘sex’, women would only love them if they defended Britain and if they didn’t they were deserters. I also embraced my female love for all things beautiful and lusted after the flapper dresses and fashions of the 1920s described by Parks in immense and stunning detail.
I found the book strangely addictive. However, I confess, pages were skimmed and I wasn’t left satisfied a result of the a-typical formula of: four friends + different problems = happy ever after. This book will do well because Parks is an accomplished writer, unfortunately, for me, the characters were weak and the ending sudden and especially slapdash.
Rating:5 out of 10