Without Any Amazement by Margaret Malcolm

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Written in 1948, this is an arranged marriage between 17-year-old schoolgirl Jacynth and considerably older Jonathan Branksome.

Jacynth isn’t reluctant at all, for what it’s worth, she seems to regard marriage as an exciting adventure. Which it possibly was for a schoolgirl in her era.

“There’s the vicar,” she said breathlessly. “Grandmother told me that he was coming. Mr Branksome, please, please say you’ll marry me! Gran wants it so and… and after all, these days, if it doesn’t work out… Oh, say you will!”

The problem with arranged marriages is that they simply are not plausible in western cultures for the last century or so. Authors scrabble around to find some reason that two people “have” to get married, but legally, there simply aren’t any. Here, there’s some silly notion of Jacynth needing to be married so her husband can protect her fortune from her no-good estranged father getting his hands on it, as 21 is the age of majority. Except that’s what a trust is for. And there’s no way this rich family and their lawyers wouldn’t have known that, and sorted it out years ago.

Anyway, if you can stomach the implausibility, there’s not much else to stomach because being 1948, there’s no sex. No pre-marital kissing, no wedding night consummation. So all the real reasons we’re reading an “arranged marriage” story for (let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s curiosity/frisson over two-strangers-having-wedding-night-sex, isn’t it?) don’t even apply here. She sleeps on the couch in his study for the wedding night.

This was his wedding night! He glanced down at the tranquil, trusting face pillowed against him. And surely, an odder marriage night no man had ever spent!

And surely, a more disappointing marriage night no romance fan has ever read!

This is a very well-written novel, of the era when even Mills & Boon romances tended to be more literary. It even quotes poetry. The relationship dynamic between Jonathan’s ex Cynthia (the evil Other Woman) and her husband and Jonathan is particularly well drawn, including the outcome. Because I have a hopeless memory for names, I spotted the one plot twist from the get-go, because “Tim” and “Tom” are so similar that I thought it was the same person anyway.

Do we finally get some Sexy Marital Action at the end, when the mutual love between Jacynth and Jonathan is finally revealed? No. And worse, Jonathan even suggests postponing the honeymoon until the spring. Fortunately Jacynth suggests just having the honeymoon at home. Honeymoon=sex, we assume. We hope so anyway. Given her husband’s forbearance for so many months, one has to wonder how red-blooded he truly is.

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