Private Arrangements, by Sherry Thomas

16 Jul

Private ArrangementsThis slightly tardy review is my contribution to this  month’s TBR Challenge, hosted by the wonderful SLWendy. This month’s theme, “Lovely Rita” (aka, RITA nominated books)

Private Arrangements, by Sherry Thomas

This book has been languishing in the old TBR mountain range for YEARS–seriously, at least four or five–which, it turns out, is a freaking crying shame. The writing, the sense of period, the language, the characterization–they are all so very polished, this reader would have readily believe that Ms Thomas had published a dozen titles prior to the release of Private Arrangements.

However, I see now, though I didn’t realize it when I first started seeing this book praised pretty much everywhere online, is that it is Ms Thomas’ debut novel. Frankly, unless someone made a point of telling you this while giving you the book, you would not know it.

A warning, though: this is a book about estranged spouses who are very much bitter against each other. If you, like me, have lived through relationships that turn acrimonious to the point of poison, you may be a tad leery about books like this one. I know I was doubtful that I could believe in any sort of reconciliation between the two protagonists,  but Ms Thomas does an excellent job a making me care about these two people and their journey to happiness.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Love has designs of its own…
To all London society, Lord and Lady Tremaine had the ideal arrangement: a marriage based on civility, courteousness, and freedom–by all accounts, a perfect marriage. The reason? For the last ten years, husband and wife have resided on separate continents.

But once upon a time, things were quite different for the Tremaines…When Gigi Rowland first laid eyes on Camden Saybrook, the attraction was immediate and overwhelming. But what began in a spark of passion ended in betrayal the morning after their wedding–and now Gigi wants to be free to marry again. When Camden returns from America with an outrageous demand in exchange for her freedom, Gigi’s decision will have consequences she never imagined, as secrets are exposed, desire is rekindled–and one of London’s most admired couples must either all in love all over again…or let each other go forever.

The beginning of this story is both exquisitely told, and chilling as hell. Gigi and Camden have been married for over a decade, and from the morning after their wedding, have lived apart. Whatever their true feelings towards each other, they have refrained from airing any of their linen, dirty or otherwise, in public. Therefore, Gigi’s apparently sudden decision to solicit a divorce is not only a delicious scandal but comes as a true shock to all of England’s ton. Not as great a shock as Camden’s reaction this is to Gigi–and to the reader, because when the two meet for the first time in over eleven years, they are truly, deeply horrible to each other,

Camden sets down the law: he’ll get an heir out of Gigi, after which he won’t contest the divorce. That is followed by this exchange:

“Fine,” she said, as indifferently as she could. “I have an evening engagement to keep. But I should be home about ten. I can permit you quarter hour from half past ten.”

He laughed. “As impatient as always, my dear marchioness. No, tonight I will not be visiting you. I’m weary from my travels. And now that I’ve seen you, I’ll need a few more days to get over my revulsion.”

Scenes like this one at the very beginning of the book were extremely uncomfortable for me to read, to the point where I actually put the book down the first time I tried reading it. However, there are wonderful reviews for the book everywhere, and I knew even then that the problem lay with me, and not with Ms Thomas’ writing or the story itself, so when I saw the book listed as a potential TBR for this month, I grabbed it and started again.

And this time, reading beyond my discomfort over the characters’ disgust with each other–and themselves–absolutely paid off.

Their story is told in two time frames which unfold in alternate chapters–not, I emphasize, through flashbacks–in a slow unveiling of motives, backgrounds and feelings that is echoed by present events.

We meet a young and cynical Gigi, who has done very well for herself without bothering with the stupidity that is believing in romantic love, thank you very much, and then we see her falling in love, with all the intensity of the very young, with a young, eminently sensible and practical, and yet deeply romantic Camden.

We meet a Camden who is–and has been for about half his life up to then–very mature about things like managing his family’s extremely meager resources, his position in society, and generally the world around him, while being extremely naïve about his own body and heart: he remains a virgin, because he has long pledged himself to someone else, a young woman just a few years his elder, whom he’s known since before puberty. And even knowing that a) she doesn’t love him (at best, she’s not as afraid of him as she is of most everyone else around her), and b)  he doesn’t, and will never, feel for this other woman what he grows to feel for Gigi in a matter of days, he’s resolved to keep his promise.

Gigi, with a young woman’s feeling of invincibility and the hubris of one who has long managed everyone and everything around her to suit herself, takes matters into her own hands, with predictable consequences: once her actions come to light, Camden is not, shall we say, favorably impressed.

Barely nineteen and twenty one respectively, their youth coupled with their emotionally isolating upbringings, neither is able to cope with the intensity of the feelings each provokes in the other–both positive and negative. What follows–both chronologically and page by page–is a wrenching journey through despair, self-hatred, anger and loneliness, towards a place where these two can finally face each other and their relationship like the decent, if flawed, human beings they are.

Camden’s sense of honor makes Gigi constantly doubt both her actions and her motivations, which threatens everything she believes about herself. Gigi’s self-assurance, energy, passion, joie de vivre, her very essence, tempt Camden to the limits of the behaviour his rigid sense of honor will condone. They constantly challenge each other, without realizing how perfectly they also complement each other.

You will find many reviews raving about Ms Thomas use of language in this book, and I’ll humbly agree. The dialogue–and the language choices the author makes through out the book–are wonderfully elegant and prosaic, all at the same time.

You will also see plenty of praise for the period setting: Victorian England, late Nineteen Century, a time of accelerated technological change and social upheaval. It is such a refreshing alternative to the often trod, terribly crowded ballrooms of genre romance Regency (not to be confused with the actual period in history, mind), that just that would set this novel apart.

But for my money, is the character growth and the raw realism of the feelings on the page that will stay with me long after today, and which will make me read this book often. I loved both Camden’s and Gigi’s inner dialogue, their hidden insecurities, their passion, their resolve, their weaknesses. I felt their pain viscerally. And I couldn’t but root for them to overcome their still intense resentment for each other, and for what the other made each feel.

If I have one complaint about this beautiful story is about the final obstacle between these two and their happily ever after. As other people have mentioned before, the reasons for that last separation seem pale and shallow compared to the sheer depth and intensity of the characters’ emotions for each other. I am not able to believe Gigi’s motivations–or, honestly, Camden’s calm, almost detached, reaction. (I could much more readily have believed a screaming match ending with Gigi nailed to the closest firm surface…)

The final verdict, despite this quibble, is that Private Arrangements is a most excellent book, that Ms Thomas can write like nobody’s business, and that this is what historical romance should be.

Private Arrangements gets a 9.25 out of 10.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Oh, what a delightful find! Behold, Ms Thomas book trailer for the paperback release of the novel (please note, a lot of the dialogue is verbatim from the book!)



7 Responses to “Private Arrangements, by Sherry Thomas”

  1. bamaclm 19/07/2014 at 1:15 AM #

    I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to ‘get into’ Sherry Thomas. I have a couple of her books and I don’t think I’ve finished either of them. Which is a shame, because the lady can write.

    I never attempted this book because the premise made me uncomfortable for some reason. Strange, because one of my favorite tropes is the arranged marriage.

    And I think, I truly think, the heroine’s name had a lot to do with my feelings. Gigi. All I could think of was Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan, lol.

    • azteclady 21/07/2014 at 10:43 AM #

      It’s funny about the heroine’s name–it intrigued me, despite my being so leery about the marriage in conflict trope.

  2. Lynn Spencer 21/07/2014 at 10:36 AM #

    Oh, this sounds wonderful. I have this book in my TBR, too, and I don’t know why I haven’t read it yet. I’ve enjoyed others by Thomas. Hope you are having a good summer!

    • azteclady 21/07/2014 at 10:55 AM #

      Thank you, Lynn!

      It is wonderful–and in my focus on the main couple, I completely forgot to mention the lovely secondary romance, which happens to be about about Gigi’s mother–who’ll be fifty in a few months in the current storyline–and a forty five year old duke she’s had a tendre for, for over thirty years.

  3. SuperWendy 21/07/2014 at 12:07 PM #

    I remember scoring a copy of this at an RWA – I wonder if it was the Orlando year? I read it back then, mostly because of the raves, and the only thing that seems to have stuck with me was how beautifully I thought it was written. It’s what kept me going actually because I recall I had issues with the romance, at that time.

    Loving the writing has led to me getting all of Sherry Thomas’ follow-up books – you know, just so they could languish in the TBR. Sigh. Almost pulled out His At Night for this month’s challenge – but ’tis a longer book. The shorter Always to Remember won out in the end because 1) it’s shorter and 2) it was languishing in my TBR for more years ::sob::

    • azteclady 21/07/2014 at 12:37 PM #

      Well, we know you can’t go wrong with a Lorraine Heath Western anyway 😀

      I am now reading the prequel to Private Arrangements, The Luckiest Lady in London. So far I’m loving the writing again, and I’m very intrigued by the characters.


  1. DNF – or will I? | Her Hands, My Hands - 27/05/2017

    […] (Point in case, see my review of Sherry Thomas’ Private Arrangements) […]

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