Sophie and Mark had the perfect marriage - that is until Mark was made redundant and Arthur arrived, changing their relationship dynamic from couple to family. Now that Sophie has returned to work and Mark must prove himself as the new Director of Sales at Charlatan Publishing, the stress of parenting is tearing apart their marriage. Mark is working long hours, and Sophie is convinced he is having an affair, especially since he misses her birthday dinner for a work function.
When Mark fails to come home one night, Sophie’s controlling Mum, Shirley, whisks her daughter and grandson away. Working in cahoots with Simon, Sophie’s ex-boyfriend (now a multi-millionaire banker from the city), Shirley is determined to see the back of her disappointing son-in-law and convince her daughter to upgrade to Simon.
Mark, however, is not so ready to be dismissed. He still loves his wife and hasn’t been unfaithful, merely thoughtless. In desperation he signs up for the “School for Husbands,” operated by Charlatan’s bestselling nonfiction author Dr. Martha Krakenhaus. He now has two weeks to save his marriage by transforming into the perfect husband, but will it be enough to win back Sophie?
Wendy Holden’s sixth novel, The School for Husbands, further explores the territory mined in The School for Husbands - that is, what happens to a marriage when “baby makes three.” Dr. Martha’s “School for Husbands” presents Holden with limitless opportunities for humor, and my favorite scene is the one where the husbands are sent out to exorcise their emotional constipation by telling the residents of Royston Vasey “I love you.”
The School for Husbands works because Holden refuses to fall into the cliche of casting Mark as a villain. He is lovable, if clueless, and she develops his character with understanding. Mark means well and is desperate to provide for his family, throwing himself fully into his work, with the result that Sophie is left to manage her own career and Arthur on her own. By showing both sides of the marriage and allowing readers to feel empathy for both characters, Holden allows readers to enjoy the humor and laughter without feeling guilt at liking Mark.
While Sophie, Mark, and Simon are the focus, Holden, as usual, has crafted many memorable secondary characters. Sophie’s father, James, is perfectly drawn. He eludes the machinations of his wife by retreating into the unfashionable hobby of genealogy – digging up ancestors certain to send his wife into a swoon if they ever become public knowledge. Holden’s cutting wit is on full display in Shirley’s reactions to James’ revelations.
Two characters deserve special mention: Helen, Sophie’s new friend from daycare, who is the perfect foil for all the determined “Yummy Mummies”; and Jeremy, the perfection-seeking manager of Winterton Hall. Both have a certain je ne sais quoi and hopefully, both will appear in future novels.
If you visit any of the North American online booksellers (Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, etc.), you’re sure to notice that the publisher’s description for The School for Husbands lists the main characters’ names as Sarah, Neil and Colin. I’m not sure why such a glaring error has been made by Holden’s publisher; hopefully someone soon will ensure it is fixed. It seems exactly the sort of mistake that Persephone, the inept PR person from Mark’s publishing firm, would make.