So this is a wild ride, with a really dated setting that makes it quite a period piece (it felt more 70s than 80s if anything). Fran, a not-very-successful model, gets swept off her feet and married to her childhood crush, Grant, about a week after they meet at a party – having not spoken for nine years.
We’re soon in Rebecca territory. The problem, though, is that Rebecca/Julia – Grant’s first wife – (a) isn’t dead and (b) is absolutely bloody perfect and beloved by everyone. Oh and she embroiders cushions and soft furnishings, for god’s sake. She’s also the spitting image of Fran – so of course Fran spends the whole time thinking she’s the substitute for Julia.
Of course it’s the other way around: Grant has always been obsessed with Fran, and only married Julia because she was the Next Best Thing, Fran being very much underage (14) at the time he fell for her. But Grant never tells her. Not until about page number the-last-page-minus-one.
The problem with this book is Grant. He’s an asshole. From start to finish, he’s a secretive, domineering, frequently cruel, controlling, jealous, chauvinistic, suspicious and judgemental asshole. If you read this, keep reminding yourself that Fran has done nothing. Nothing wrong, whatsoever. She is young, pretty much totally innocent of men, she has always loved Grant and everything she does in the book is to try to please him. I did get sick of all the hausfrauing. Seriously. Grant’s wealthy, but Fran sacks the cleaners so she can busy herself around his flat with a duster. Why not get a job? Volunteer? Learn Cordon Bleu cooking? Instead of putting people out of work to play at being a charwoman.
Let’s not forget The Sex: which is the most gloriously implausible, unbelievably multi-orgasmic soaring, searing passion-fest that I’ve yet encountered in a romance novel. Totally unbelievable. And all the more so when Fran’s libido literally dries up when they return to Manderley, and Mrs Danvers (yes, there is a Mrs Danvers whom Grant won’t sack because “she’s old”) keeps spraying Julia’s perfume around the marital bedroom.
It’s one of the rare romance novels where I honestly wished there could be some twist and the hero might die, or something. SPOILER: he doesn’t.