Thursday, January 23, 2014

For Better, For Worse by Elizabeth Jeffrey

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: January 22, 2014

Newly widowed after a whirlwind wartime romance, Stella Nolan is preparing to meet her late husband’s family for the first time.  But not all her new in-laws are prepared to offer Stella a warm welcome. The war has left a bitter legacy and at Warren’s End Stella finds a family riven with tension, disappointments, shameful secrets and bitter quarrels.  In particular, Stella’s new sister-in-law Rosalie makes her hostility plain, and it’s not always easy for Stella to stand up to her overbearing mother-in-law. An unforeseen turn of events means that Stella ends up staying with the Nolan family a great deal longer than she had planned – and her extended visit is destined to bring joy, heartbreak, scandal – and unexpected love...

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I'm not entirely sure what I expected from Elizabeth Jeffrey's For Better, For Worse when I picked it up, but the end result was decidedly underwhelming. Not a horrendously bad read, simply a bland and gracelessly constructed one that will soon fade to a watery and monotonous blur. 

Stella's newfound romance hardly qualifies as such. Not to say a companionable friendship cannot be rewarding, but in the realm of fiction, the term is usually indicative of relationships with a bit more heat. Jeffrey's tasteful depiction of unspoken longing, garnished with demure moments of impetuous hand holding is sweet in its way, but I found the awkwardly sedate courtship thoroughly unconvincing.

To add insult to injury, this lack of tangible desire was further undermined by the distinct warmth Jeffrey constructed between Henry and Emma. Meant to augment the thematic significance of Stella's burgeoning affection, this poignantly emotional subplot upstaged the primary story in every possible sense.

More frustrating than Jeffrey's wobbly and blasé premise, however, is her tendency to repeat herself, an aspect best illustrated in her own words. 

Take for example the following statement:

‘I wouldn’t want you to think I’m ashamed to be pregnant,’ she assured the assistant in the dress shop as she paid for her purchases.
‘Indeed, no, Madam, but one prefers not to flaunt one’s condition, particularly where there are gentlemen,’ the assistant said primly.

Which was followed sometime later by: 

It’s what I wear to church every Sunday,’ Stella replied cheerfully. ‘In fact, it’s what I wear every time I go out. Not that I’m ashamed of my condition,’ she added quickly.
‘No, no, of course not,’ Doreen said hurriedly, adding in a low voice, ‘But one doesn’t wish to flaunt it, especially in front of the men.’ 

Or perhaps this little jewel: 

‘It’s a scandal the way these men who’ve fought for their country are treated. Standing on street corners because there’s no jobs, or going round selling matches to try and make a few coppers. It’s not right in this day and age'

Which was echoed here: 

He’s like hundreds of others who fought for their country and now get no help to get back on their feet. Worse than that, they’re virtual outcasts. Standing on street corners, propped on crutches trying to sell matches to get enough money to feed their wives and children. It’s an absolute disgrace!’

And here: 

‘I think the thing that affected me most was seeing ex-servicemen, proud men who’d had decent jobs before the war, standing on street corners trying to sell matches, or bootlaces, or packets of pins, some of them on crutches, some with only one arm or with a leg missing. Decent men should never be humiliated like that.’

Forgive me for asking, but where was Jeffrey's editor and why didn't they correct her rampant repetition before deeming her manuscript ready for print? 

Unremarkable in both content and structure, it's safe to say I was unimpressed with Jeffrey's work and would have a hard time recommending it to fellow readers. 

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"For better, for worse; in sickness and in health..." she murmured.
He snorted. "Ah, yes, that’s an easy enough promise to make in a fairy-tale wedding when you are both young and fit and a golden life lies ahead. Not quite so easy when reality kicks in."
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