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Get Hold of...

Nancy Sundstrom - July 15th, 2004
A familiar theme resonates through bestselling British novelist Jane Green’s sixth novel, and that is to be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it. And if you do, what happens when it looks like real life will surpass your dreams? Can you trust it? Can it last? Are things too good to be true just that?
In her latest, the delightful and still substantive “To Have and to Hold,” Alice is a shy and unpretentious woman whose life consists primarily of being a loyal friend and successful caterer who takes great pride in her work. Her needs and wants are simple, and when she attracts the attention of wealthy, dashing businessman Joe Chambers, she simply can’t believe her luck. When he asks her to marry him, she thinks she’s died and gone to heaven.
In this excerpt from the onset of the book, we find Alice readying herself on Christmas Eve, 1996, questioning if her impending marriage is real or some fantastic dream from which she is about to awake:

“Alice takes a deep breath as she opens the wardrobe door and pulls out her dress. She lays it carefully on the bed, gathering her shoes, her veil, her stockings and garter, draping them gently next to the dress, amazed that in just a few hours’ time she will be wearing all of this. In just a few hours’ time she will be Joe’s bride.
‘Here comes the bride,’ she sings to herself, taking small, gliding steps down her hallway into the kitchen, smiling despite the butterflies, putting on the kettle to make herself another cup of coffee. She thinks she needs the coffee to stay awake, so badly did she sleep last night, but the adrenalin is already pumping, and she’s waiting for Emily—her maid of honour—to arrive, someone with whom she can share the excitement.
Walking back into the bedroom, she stands for a while gazing at the dress. While not exactly what she would have chosen, she can’t deny its beauty, how elegant it is, how impossibly stylish.
Alice had always thought she would have a country wedding. She dreamt, even as a little girl, of a small stone church; of walking through a white wooden gate in a soft, feminine puff of a dress, fresh flowers in her hair and a posy of hand-picked wild daisies in her hand. The groom had been unimportant: her fantasy had ended at the church door, but she knows the groom—even in her fantasies—would never have been as handsome, or as successful, as Joe.
At university, when she and Emily sat up late into the night discussing their knights in shining armour, Alice said she thought her ideal man would probably be an artist, or a craftsman, or a gardener. She had laughed as she said it, laughed at the unlikeliness of any lasting relationship, let alone marriage, given that her longest relationship at that time had been three weeks.
And before meeting Joe, her longest relationship had been three months…So a country wedding with a group of smiling toddlers (she had hoped that by the time she got married, if she ever got married, someone somewhere would have been able to provide the smiling toddlers) throwing down a blanket of rose petals and giggling as they walked up the aisle behind her.
She had envisaged a sea of straw hats and floral dresses, the sun beating down on her bare arms as she emerged from the church hand-in-hand with her other half.
When Joe proposed, she had told him about her dream wedding, and he had smiled at her indulgently and said it was a lovely fantasy, but they couldn’t possibly get married in the country when both of them lived in London, and anyway, didn’t she agree that winter weddings were so much smarter? She didn’t agree, but felt she had to, because after all, Joe was paying for it. Alice’s parents didn’t have a penny, and Joe was determined to have a wedding that he judged fitting for the head of the healthcare business in Mergers & Acquisitions at Godfrey Hamilton Saltz.”

So there’s the rub. Alice wants a rose-covered cottage in the English countryside where children and animals run free as she works in her garden, growing things for a lovingly-prepared home-cooked meal. As one might guess, that’s not Joe’s plan, and the reader is instantly suspicious of his motives, though author Green handles things so smoothly that we let down our guard for awhile, primarily because Alice is such a sympathetic character that we want her to continue to feel like a princess who will never again have to kiss another frog.
Be assured, things are not as they seem, and Joe indeed seems to have motives that are not entirely pure as he sets about remaking Alice into a Stepford wife with blonde hair, Jimmy Choo shoes and an interest in everything she’s never cared about before.
The plot takes a significant turn when Joe, after an indiscretion with a co-worker, insists they leave Alice’s beloved England for a Manhattan job and the nearby Connecticut countryside. Alice dreads the move, but it is a blessing in disguise. As she redoes a country house in Connecticut, she rediscovers the simple joys that are so appealing to her, even as Joe continues the self-destructive behaviors that forced their move in the first place.
Will Alice stay with and redeem Joe? Will she find real love with her best friend’s boyfriend? Will she stay under Joe’s spell and suppress her own blooming and quite wonderful personality, essentially selling her soul to the devil to hang onto a marriage that is perfect – but only on the surface?
Insightful, witty, sexy and sparkling, Green is a master at working these sorts of situations into compelling story twists, and truth be told, it’s hard to put this one down. There’s lots of reasons to recommend “To Have and to Hold,” particularly if you’ve ever felt stifled or unappreciated in a marriage. The Bard said it best when he advised long ago, “To thine own self be true.” Whether you can take someone along for the ride is not the answer, but rather the question.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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