Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband (Barbara Toner, Bantam)
It’s 1919, the Great War is over and the Spanish Flu has ended. In rural New South Wales, four women find themselves beset with problems and with no men in their lives capable of helping them. Adelaide’s husband is stricken with PTSD, and she is trying to keep the family store afloat while dealing with an unscrupulous manager; beautiful, widowed Louisa is being blackmailed; young, orphaned Maggie is raising her pyromaniac brothers alone; and Pearl must find her runaway fiancé before someone gets shot. Their solution: hire a part-time husband together. Naturally, scandal ensues. Despite the title, women’s relationships form the core of this novel, and author Barbara Toner explores female friendships—warm, begrudging, forged by necessity and eroded by past mistakes—in all their messy intricacies. In contrast to the four sparkling protagonists, the other characters can seem a little like props to keep the story moving, but Toner wisely keeps the focus on her heroines as they navigate the twists of fate to give them a (mostly) happy ending—no husband required. This is a light, funny, warm-hearted read with occasional notes of darkness, which never shies away from the more serious elements of the era.
Catherine Moller is a writer, editor and publications coordinator at Queensland Writers Centre