Wendy Holden is an English author who specializes in biting wit and scathing satire. Her setting for this novel is the steamy ambience of Bath, where romances bloom and fade with the trauma of childbirth as an unlikely backdrop.
Amanda loves Hugo and Alice loves Jake - or so we are led to believe. All are in the throes of first parenthood, linked by birthing classes and a posh maternity center, the Cavendish, where moms rest in four-poster beds while dads enjoy whiskey at the well-appointed bar. Though planning a birth at home (“on a shower curtain”) Alice has Rosa at the Cavendish after an emergency C-section, and Amanda would have expected no less than the grand sweep of Cavendish services for her little Theo.
But Amanda really knows nothing about babies and cares less, and quickly escapes to her career as a high-powered magazine writer, leaving Hugo to blunder through fatherhood, losing his job in the process of trying to do right by his son. To figure out such basics as how to change a nappie, he consults the lonely Alice, whose husband is gradually drifting into fanaticism as publisher of a recycling rag called Get Trashed!. The brush strokes are broad as we see Hugo boldly rescuing Rosa’s beloved teddy bear and winning Alice’s heart, and Amanda striking out on a mad junket landing her up in the arms of a “fantastic guy called Rick.” Jake, who’s been a pill throughout, forcing Rosa to eat pureed veggies grown in human manure, finds out he’s in love with a fantastic guy, too, and things come full circle, with Hugo and Alice back at the birthing center working on a sibling for Rosa and the winsome Theo.
Along the way there are many reasons to laugh, as Alice defends her beloved Jake despite his domineering ways (the Christmas gifts wrapped in toilet paper, the feast of Brussels sprouts served in what was once the glass door panel of a clothes washing machine, the wormery in the garden). Amanda is wicked as the career non-Mom who almost forgets her son’s name, and then there’s Laura, the sexy siren who tries to seduce Hugo and winds up saving him from Amanda’s wrath.
Holden is fast with a bon mot and great at naming things: Theo’s childcare center, Chicklets; Hugo’s real estate firm, Dunn and Dustard; and Jake and Alice’s love nest, The Old Morgue (because it once was one). If you love Brit humor as I do and like it laid on thick as old paint, you’ll crease up as you follow the hilarious doings of The Wives of Bath.