A Second-Hand Husband – Claire Calman

Within 16 lines of starting this book, it had me laughing out loud, at the thought of Nat, in the bath, talking to her new Husband Carl. Nat is trying her best to sound sexy, but her Husband asks if she’s unwell, since she sounds sick! I certainly might feel sick, if I were to find out that my new Husband had bought a house for us at auction, very close to his ex Wife, without consulting me. I would not be happy. Laughter at this early stage certainly augers well, and if the rest of the book continues in this comedic vein………..what’s not to love?

The storyline of this book took an ‘thoriffic’’ (a mutant form of terrible & horrific) turn, when It is revealed during a telephone conversation with Celeste, Nat’s older Sister) that the house is rather close to Carl’s ex wife! I think there was a double reveal, as the author also divulged her utterly wicked sense of humour to the reader at this point! I did love the cutting remark that the author gifted to Celeste ‘I wouldn’t trust a man to choose a glass of wine for me, let alone a house’. Needless to say, Nat is clearly not of the same opinion! I loved Nat’s dialogue and the more I read, the more I warmed to her as a character. I felt nothing but empathy for Nat and found myself rooting for her from afar and genuinely caring whether or not Carl manages to screw her life up!

Nat’s reaction when she realises how close the ‘new’ house is, to Carl’s ex-wife, is predictable, but it is described in such a way that you can’t help but empathise with Nat, and in my mind I was already casting Carl’s ex as the baddy in the situation, even though I have no evidence of her having anything to do with the situation. I feel that the author captured the perfect reaction for Nat, and to not have Nat reacting badly, would surely seem most unrealistic, given the situation. We are only human, after all.

The characterisation off Carl is superb, but I’m not sure that I would trust him, were he in my life. He seemed to me to be one of those people that kind of project their issues onto other people, and someone who has a psychological hold over loved ones.Why would I buy a house with no roof and not mention it?’ An example is where he is shouting about where the roof of the house has gone and says to Nat ‘Why would I buy a house with no roof and not mention it?’ – when as a reader I get sneaky , wily undertones from Him – and I feel pretty certain that he has done exactly that, and bought and tried to move his Wife into a house with no roof. I felt the most dislike for Carl though, when he ‘encourages’ Nat to put on lipstick, before they going into his ex’s house. I mean really – is he living in the 1950’s. I thought the thread was really well written though – because some men really do behave like that! Unfortunately for Nat, Carl seems hellbent on some kind of game of one-upmanship with his ex and her Husband, Dominic, although it increasingly seems that Carl is the only one playing the game! However, I must assure that you, that despite not particularly liking Carl that much, this in no way detracts from the talent of the author, and the way she portrays him and his actions, through a whole spectrum of personality traits, from sad, to funny, to loving, with several more in between. A character doesn’t have to be likeable, in order to testament to an author’s talent; indeed the author’s portrayal of Carl is bordering on genius.

Carl’s ex, Antonia almost comes across as pleasant,if a little high maintenance, although personally I would find her habit of referring to Carl as ‘Our Husband’, in front of Nat, more than a tad irritating. The writing is clever I think, in that it makes a character that I feel I should dislike, pretty likeable, despite her many afflictions!

The part of the storyline where Nat feels as though she’s not good enough for Carl is positively heartbreaking. The section is so well written and realistic, that I could feel real tears forming. I felt completely divided – torn between overflowing with empathy for Nat and anger and frustration towards Antonia and Carl, and taking a moment to admire the strong, yet poignant prose. I wasn’t convinced that Antonia was an unpleasant person, buy more careless/thoughtless, with a hint of selfishness. Surely can’t possibly thinking of the connotations of constant try reffering to someone as their Husband’s no. 2💩 and I cannot help but wonder if Carl really does think that Nat is ‘second fiddle’ to Antonia, or whether he is ‘just’ a selfish, thoughtless, egotistical narcissist!

I love the way that Nat clearly adores her family, and I empathise with her hugely over the relationship with her Father, which is difficult. The relationship with Carl is sad at times, in that he is hardly ever at home, but I think that the author captures how Nat feels about this in a sympathetic, yet realistic manner. It’s a shame that Nat has so many ‘difficult’ relationships, ranging from that with Antonia, through to the issues with Carl, and then to the awful way that Saskia, Carl’s Daughter behaves towards her. I felt that the way the relationship with Saskia was described completely empathetically. It almost feels as though Nat is the only adult who genuinely has time for Saskia, and tries to understand her – for example, Nat realising that Saskia is not a confident swimmer – yes sadly Saskia is rude and tries to push her away at every opportunity. Despite these scenes making for uncomfortable reading, they were again a huge testament to the author’s writing skill. Not every situation is sparkles and unicorns, and the author clearly recognises this and writes about difficult situations and difficult people, with great skill and empathy. Indeed one starts to wonder whether or not Nat actually needs Carl in her life so much – such is her ability to get on so well without him. I love the way this is written – proof of the fact that a woman does not need a man, in order to live their life to its best.

In all, this was an über read that I simply did not want to put down.

To buy this book for yourself, just use this link: https://amzn.to/3bVgrKir

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