Every Woman for Herself by Trisha Ashley
If there is comedy to be found in what looks like a tragic situation, this book by the witty and clever Trisha Ashley demonstrates how Charlie (or Charlotte) rises from two huge problems with the help of her memorable family. As part of a “Bronte experiment” by their father Ran, she has two sisters Anne and Emily, and a brother called Branwell, and they live in a large house called the Parsonage in Upvale, Yorkshire. When Matt, Charlie’s husband, is apparently suddenly seized by an urge
to demand a divorce before returning to work abroad, Charlie soon realises that she must return home to her father’s house.
As with several of Ashley’s other books, a change of location soon means a change of perspective and life, and with Charlie’s family and friends, she soon discovers a lot about herself. The characters in this book are superbly rendered; the redoubtable Em, the sister that runs the household and dabbles in other interests, Anne of the war – like disposition, and Bran the brilliant academic who is bewildered by everyday life. There is a new age nursery with an appalling child, and a striking actor with a bright little daughter. The house and extension which Charlie is forced into is described so well that it becomes another character, along with Gloria and Walter, and it does seem to be a very real, if slightly uncomfortable, place.
Charlie narrates her story, and can only rationalise Matt’s decision to get a quick divorce by assuming he has been taken over by aliens. After twenty three years of married life in which she has not had children or developed an independent career outside the house, Matt presents his plans as “a fait accompli”. When Angie, the wife of “Groping Greg”, best friend to Matt, turns up as a predecessor to a disastrous later meeting, Charlie is beginning to realise that the divorce demand is real. She has to travel to the Parsonage under a cloud, but gets what amounts to a welcome from her family. Another one of her father’s procession of mistresses is in possession of her old bedroom, so she moves into the Summer House with her precious collection of plants. As several members of the extended household begin to foresee what is ahead, Charlie begins to realise that many things are happening that are difficult for her to cope with, let alone foresee.
This is a very funny book in terms of both the characters and the amusing details which make for a really enjoyable read. I so appreciated the house that I wished that I could visit. Throughout the book there are little snatches for a magazine which Charlie idly considers starting, called “Skint Old Northern Woman” which is of itself a very funny idea. Including such stereotypes as never wearing warm clothes whatever the weather, it earnestly explains the difference between mushy peas and pease pudding and other alternative ideas to the standard magazine. This book is a little dated, as it originally appeared in 2002 so is pre internet and ubiquitous mobile phones, but is probably more interesting for that reason. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a very funny book which incidentally deals with some serious themes, and it is so easy to read.
This is a lovely book to read at any point, but is especially helpful if life is proving difficult. There are some more serious issues raised here, but all are dealt with in a thoughtful way. I am enjoying working my way through Trisha Ashley’s books, and hope to be reviewing a few more soon when I can get hold of them, including the new “The Garden of Forgotten Wishes” (I had better start saving my pennies!)