My oldest daughter and her friends, all in their early twenties, chose this book for their book club and, after they had discussed it, I inherited it. I had just finished a string of murder mysteries and needed a break from suspense, so I put it away. This week, needing a quick read, I picked it back up. I soon wished I had not.
Based on the blurbs at the start of the book, which I read only after I had finished the last page, this is one of those books that was self-published, gained attention from bloggers, and so gained a publishing contract. It follows themes similar to those of a famous self-published novel that made it big–50 Shades (which I have not read, full disclosure). The main character, Grace, is a successful fruit buyer for Harrod’s. She specializes in exotic fruit, so has traveled and is, therefore, somewhat worldly. Her parents did not want children and certainly did not want her younger sister, Millie, who suffers from Down’s syndrome. Millie would have been aborted but from Grace’s protests and Grace took over much of the responsibility for raising Millie and, as an adult, has taken on responsibility for her care once she finishes boarding school. Men have come and gone from Grace’s life, usually leaving after realizing her commitment to care for her special needs sister. Men until perfect Jack, a handsome and successful lawyer who defends victims of domestic abuse and who adores Millie and agrees to her moving in with them when he proposes to Grace after a short courtship.
I found the first half of the novel very frustrating. Grace ignores warning signs in a man around the age of 40 who has never been married and is physically gorgeous and economically prosperous. For instance, she has to insist on sex. He does not want Millie to be a bridesmaid. Jack chooses a house for the couple without allowing Grace to see it. Everything has to be a surprise/secret.
Millie falls and breaks her leg on the way into the ceremony, but Jack insists the ceremony continue without her. He disappears on the wedding night, becomes rude, and still she plows forward. No one but Grace is surprised when he turns out to be a controlling abusive asshole. He does not rape her, in fact is not interested in her sexually. He does not beat her. Instead, he emotionally and mentally tortures her. Part of that torture is the knowledge that he has only married her to have the opportunity to torture her sister, whose fear will be unfiltered.
Jack is a sadistic bastard who deserves what happens to him in the end, and reading about his comeuppance is the only consolation this novel offered me. For most of the novel, which blessedly I was able to speed read, I marveled at what in our culture has young women wanting to read this type of “romance.” I remember reading Beatrice Small and thrilling at the moments when the rough hero manhandled the heroine and then turned into the thoughtful lover she knew he could be. Is this type of novel the evolutionary product of Beatrice Small? I was parts horrified, parts social scientist observing the way that each scene dished up new levels of control and horror for Grace the way a dominatrix might dole out lashes with a whip or whatever a dominatrix does outside of the confines of Hollywood comedies.
I usually leave copies of the books I have read at a “little library” spot in my neighborhood. I feel badly enough about this book that I am not sure it is a public good to offer up this book for anything more than paper recycling.