Hilariously funny, wickedly witty, but with a heart of gold and a warmth and wisdom that are all its own, A Second-Hand Husband is Claire Calman’s tour de force.
Natalie and Carl are newlyweds, but the honeymoon period is over already.
Carl has just announced he has bought their first home at auction without telling Natalie where it is, never mind showing her a picture of it.
Natalie is horrified to discover that the dream home is in Little Wyford, mere minutes away from Carl’s ex-wife Antonia. And to make matters worse, Antonia’s palatial country mansion has a fully-functioning roof (and a heated swimming pool!), unlike the ramshackle cottage Carl has bought for them…
Antonia is Little Wyford’s Queen Bee, mistress of the book club, organiser of the Christmas Fair and leader of the ladies-who-lunch. No matter how hard she tries, Natalie just doesn’t fit in, and when Antonia insists on referring to Carl as ‘Our Husband’, Natalie’s dreams of happily-ever-after take another nose dive.
Second-hand furniture has much to recommend it, especially when doing up a country cottage, second-hand clothes can be ever-so chic, but second-hand husbands are proving to be a very bad idea indeed… Can Natalie ever escape the label of Wife Number Two or is she destined to share her husband forever?
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Claire Calman is a writer and broadcaster known for her novels that combine wit and pathos, including the bestseller Love is a Four-Letter Word. She has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Loose Ends. Her first book for Boldwood was published in June 2020.
A Second-Hand Husband was an enjoyable read with a great smaller cast of characters. Firstly, the title was a nice clever touch as the story follows the main character who is a second wife as she navigates her new role. As she is a second-hand antique clock dealer, it was a fun touch to set the tone for the overall story. Natalie’s new life is very relatable as it is a common occurrence in the world and it was lovely to read about her experience, especially as she suffers from many self-esteem issues. Even those who are very confident in themselves cannot help but comparing themselves to others, so it was nice to see how Natalie navigated her new life as a second wife.
Natalie is a 36-year-old owner of her own antique clock shop in London. She found the love of her life after he was a customer in her shop and the two of them wed after less than 6 months together. Now the two of them are navigating married life with some complications as her husband, Carl, a man in his early 40s and is a PR manager, has been married before and his two children live with his ex-wife. Before I, as the reader, even met Carl, I had to wonder about his children that still make me wonder, as it is never explicitly discussed in the book. It could also be different in the UK, but I automatically wondered why the two children lived full time with the mother. Carl is close with his children, so it made me wonder if it was a decision by either parent, a joint decision, a legal decision when they divorced, or if it was a decision by the children (they are younger, but some places do let kids have a say). 27 days into married life, Carl surprises Natalie with a new house that happens to be located in the same village as his ex-wife, Antonia. Even though it was Natalie’s idea for them to move closer to his children, she now has to wonder if it all would work out. The story follows Natalie’s adventure trying to navigate the new house, which happens to need a lot of work, the new family dynamics, and her marriage.
While the story was filled with a lot of humor, some of the characters were just not likable to me, no matter how much of a potential redemption arc they could have. Antonia did many “mean girl” behaviors where she would call the main character Natty instead Natalie, even though Natalie repeatedly told her not to. Her character is written as the “Queen Bee” of the town and she comes across as perfect, although there is more lying underneath. Every reader will interpret her character differently, but I just did not interpret the “cattiness” as humorous and I commend Natalie for putting up with it, as I would not in the same situation. Now onto Carl, he makes many bothersome comments throughout the entire novel, so he was a very difficult character to like. He drove me crazy throughout the entire novel and I have absolutely how he ended up with either wife. Despite me not connecting with either of these characters, they were both written well and it did not take away from my enjoyment of the story.
Natalie was a delightful character. She has low self-esteem and does not think she is as great as “perfect” Antonia or the perfect girl for Carl, who she considers to be out of her league. She goes through a lot of character growth in becoming comfortable with her new role and with her esteem. It was nice to see her come into her own, even if Carl was not always around. I felt a lot of sympathy for Natalie as I just wanted her to discover how much she has to offer the world. She is not perfect, but she tries to learn from her mistakes and to grow as a person, which was relatable and interesting to read about throughout her story.
Overall, this novel was a nice and enjoyable read. There were some subplots, such as Natalie’s father and Carl’s brother, that I would have loved to learn more about, but I liked the general story. The setting was lovely and I would absolutely jump at the chance to live at Rose Cottage, even with all the work that is needed. It was an very sweet story about a woman finding out more about navigating life around her and learning more about herself along the way.
**I give a special thank you to Rachel @rararesources, the publisher, Boldwood Books, and the author Claire Calman, for the opportunity to participate with this enjoyable novel via Netgalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**