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Review & Author Q&A: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner

on February 9, 2018

Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband
Barbara Toner
Penguin Random House AUS
2018, 373p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

When Adelaide Nightingale, Louisa Worthington, Maggie O’Connell and Pearl McLeary threw caution to the winds in the most brazen way imaginable, disgrace was inevitable.’

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 NSW 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 McLeary, 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 . . .

I loved the idea of this book. Post-WWI Australia is not a setting I encounter a lot and I was very intrigued with it. It was a very strange time – whilst men were away at war women had to take on roles they would previously not have done. There were men who had not gone to war (Australia did not have conscription for WWI and therefore all that signed up were volunteers) found their jobs given to returning soldiers or that those soldiers had returned to reclaim the jobs they’d had before they left. There had been the Spanish flu epidemic on the tail end of WWI and many areas had been drastically affected by both. Whereas flu generally killed the elderly or the very young, this one killed those in the prime of their lives.

All four of the women are struggling, in different ways. Louisa is now a widow and is also being targeted about her husband’s debts. Although Adelaide’s husband returned, he’s struggling and isn’t interested in her claims that the family general store is being ripped off by the manager. Maggie is very young, left to raise her hellion little brothers and Pearl is new in town. She’s taken a job as a housekeeper but her real reasons for being in Prospect, NSW are to try and find her wayward fiancé, who returned from the war and disappeared.

As women in 1919, they are restricted by social expectations and also aren’t particularly taken seriously. Adelaide can’t get anyone to listen to her about the general store manager, the men that Pearl must talk to in seeking her fiancé won’t give her any answers. Louisa has her own problems and Maggie needs a firm hand to help her pull the boys into line. And perhaps get back the land that is rightfully belonging to her family. The idea of hiring a man to ‘share’ between them is a great one, albeit scandalous, should anyone ever find out the man’s true reason for being in town. A man will be able to do the things that they as ladies cannot do, conduct conversations that they cannot indulge in. Unfortunately, the choice is entrusted to someone else and they send them…..Martin Duffy.

From first glance it’s appallingly obvious that Martin Duffy is not the man that any of the ladies need. He doesn’t have the confident and assured manner to deal with many different types of people but that doesn’t matter to several of them, who rather fancy that Martin Duffy could become less of a figurative husband and more of an actual husband. Although Martin does do his best to investigate the various problems the four ladies are happen, he’s rather inadequate for the task. I think some of the story does fall a bit flat because it relies a lot on the premise that these four women have faith in him to help them out. Their attitudes towards him are quite interesting – and there’s a lot of bickering over who has the greater problem and needs him to sort it out for them first. The women are not what you’d call friends – they’re from different walks of life, different social classes, they have various feuds and foibles between them and at times their relationships really do reflect this is a forced situation. Four women who need a man to sort something for them in a world where they cannot reliably do it for themselves. Of them all, Pearl is the most capable. She really only needs a man to accompany her to the railway construction sites in order to try and get some information from the men working there to find if her fiancé has been through this area. She is able to keep Adelaide’s house, mind her child and be the voice of reason at almost every turn. Maggie is young and panicked, saddled with a stressful situation and judged by quite a few of the locals. Adelaide came across as high strung but she had the right idea and I did find the journey for her and her husband very interesting – I wish a bit more could have been spent on it. Louisa was the character I had the most trouble connecting with and there were a lot of…..unresolved issues with her story. My favourite part of the story was Pearl and her love interest.

I did feel a little of this story was left unfinished but in the below Q&A with author Barbara Toner there’s a bit of information that helps with that feeling!


Book #20 of 2018

And now……10 Questions with Barbara Toner

Q1. Hello Barbara and welcome to my blog. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me. To start, could you share your road to publication?

This is the twelfth book I’ve had published and I wrote it without finding a publisher first because I wanted to take my time with it.  Once a book has been commissioned (as the sequel to Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband has been) then there is a deadline and this creates an urgency, which can he helpful but not necessarily.  When I was more or less happy with it, I gave it to my agent, who offered it to Bantam who offered us a deal. But if you mean how was I first published, then I did write a commissioned book. I’d just had my first baby and was looking for some guidance on combining motherhood with a career. When I couldn’t find it, I decided to write it and Double Shift, A Practical Guide For Working Mothers was commissioned.

Q2. Let’s talk writing! Are you a meticulous planner or a wing it and see where things go writer?

Bit of both. I do a lot of thinking before I start and I make a long list of everything I know about the book I think I want to write. This is very helpful for brain sorting.  With some books I’ve stuck very closely to the original outline but with this book I knew where I was headed but that was it. I   worked out the twists and turns as I went along.  There was a lot of plotting because I had four heroines whose stories needed to be entwined.

Q3. Is writing a full-time occupation for you or do you balance it with other work?

It’s full time. I spent most of my life combining books with journalism and that was easily done and very rewarding.

Q4. Is there anywhere you prefer to write (such as a study/office or café) and anything you consider essential for the mood, such as coffee/tea or music?

Mostly I write at my desk in my study. I work for about five hours a day with a break for lunch.  I get up and wander about as often as I can remember or when something in the plot is bothering me.  Usually I do a couple of hours revision before lunch and three hours new work in the afternoon.  No tea, no coffee, no music.

Q5. How much research did you have to do for the 1919 small town setting for Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part Time Husband?

I did quite a lot of reading about rural NSW in 1919.  This helped me with the political and social landscape but   then I only fact checked when the need arose. I’ve almost certainly made mistakes in the interests of a good story for which I apologise to anyone offended by them.

Q6. What made you include the walers in the story? Was there a prior interest or something that just came up?

The curious thing about the walers was that I wanted Louisa to be under siege and was tantalised by the idea of   horses being delivered to her in the dead of night.  I was well into the book before I came across the walers and they fitted perfectly into the plot that was unfolding for her.

Q7. You’ve written both non-fiction and fiction titles. For you, how different (or similar!) are the processes?

The process is very different.  Factual books require meticulous research and a lot of analysis then cross-checking of the information.  Fiction for me is largely about dreaming a world into existence and making it both accessible and compelling to people other than yourself.

Q8. For some fun…….what 3 things would you want if you were stranded on a desert island?

Laptop, wi fi and water. I’d be utterly useless.

Q9. What 5 books or authors would you recommend?

Authors:  EM Forster, Patrick de Witt, Elizabeth Strout, William Thackeray, Richard Pike Bissell

Q10. And lastly…..what’s next for you? Can you share anything about what you might be working on or have plans to?

As above am currently writing the sequel to this book, set in the same place about the four ladies ten years later.

Thanks once again for joining me on my blog! ~Bree

One response to “Review & Author Q&A: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner

  1. I just read this book too! and I have the same thoughts as you – I thought Martin Duffy was going to be a really fantastic, bold, confident character and really drive the story. But I ended up quite disappointed 😦

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