To have and to hold – at arm’s length.
Publisher: Bantam (Random House)
First Published: 2008
Date Reviewed: 11th February 2013
Camden and Gigi, married for ten years, have been living separately since the day after their wedding due to a betrayal on Gigi’s part. Now Gigi wants a divorce so she can marry her latest beau. It’s not going to be that easy. Camden doesn’t want to lose her, and at the end of the day was her betrayal so bad?
Private Arrangements was Thomas’s début. Whilst it may not be perfect, what a début it was (please excuse the usage of present and past tense here). The unconventional storyline – the infidelity of the characters – may divide opinion, but it cannot be said that this does not create originality in a genre that is already predictable due to its very theme.
The storyline is strong. It works in part because there is no infidelity within the confines of the book itself. Neither character has remained chaste throughout the separation, but when they are reunited there are no other physical relationships. Gigi puts off sexual relations with her lover for the duration of what is to be Camden’s yearlong time limit to get her pregnant with an heir. This on-page lack of extramarital sex may not be sufficient for every reader, but to those who are comfortable with the set-up of a marriage that is a marriage in name only, it will likely prove fair enough.
The characters are particularly well developed. Whilst neither could be called affable, they are strong people (to an extent) who know who they are, what they want, and take the necessary steps to get it. Gigi is the strong woman of wealth who has compassion for all, and Camden, whilst an alpha hero, has a sensitive side.
The chemistry is something special. The characters are a good fit and both their meetings and sexual relations are believable. Though in this there is cause for contention. It could easily be argued that some, if not most, of the sex is non-consensual – Gigi agrees to the plan of getting pregnant, but Camden’s solo decisions to suddenly ‘take’ her can seem rather selfish and arrogant. And whilst Gigi takes precautions (yes, this, because she’s not so sure about having children), Camden’s overruling of it is difficult to read, even if there is some thread of understanding in it.
There is also the issue of angst. This book is a fine recommendation for those who like hardships and, well, angst, in their reading, but as the story continues it can become difficult to take character decisions and assertions seriously. To put it simply, having a character continuously going against blatantly correct decisions just becomes silly. It is a reflection of stubbornness and some readers may enjoy it, but it doesn’t quite fit the rest of the book, making the characters weaker than they were. Then again, it could be said that their passion for each other has weakened their resolve.
The plot is proffered as a duel storyline with a secondary plot to boot. Flashbacks throughout keep you informed as to those first few weeks of the metaphorical honeymoon period and the literal but wretched honeymoon period, as well as everything you need to know about the ten year gap. It works well, meaning that when the present-day (1893) incarnations of the characters are in focus, their stubbornness is somewhat offset. It does mean you don’t know as much about the “now” but it is not a bad thing, per se.
The secondary plot line consists of Gigi’s mother’s attempt to find a new husband for her daughter. It may not be original, but if you enjoy reading about Austen’s Mrs Bennett, you’ll likely enjoy Victoria Rowland. It can detract from Camden and Gigi, but it is strong enough to keep you reading.
Lastly a special mention must be made regarding the writing. This is the sort of romance book that would likely appeal to typically non-romance readers. The writing is eloquent, almost historical itself, and it’s undeniably beautiful. Even language pertaining to things not considered beautiful, actions during intercourse, are written with taste.
Private Arrangements may not appeal to everyone for its story, but seen simply as a book rather than for its genre, it cannot be said that it isn’t good. Indeed it incorporates a great many elements considered crucial to a good novel and manages to break convention whilst not alienating the reader. It’s just as well the privacy of Camden and Gigi was breached else we’d be lacking a brilliant work.
September 26, 2013, 4:03 pm
I love Sherry Thomas’ writing. Her recent YA debut is also terrific. (I need to write a review of it soon!)
September 26, 2013, 5:56 pm
This sounds like it would make a good pick for a book club, providing plenty of fodder for discussion.