In this novel, we encounter multiple relationships, sometimes interlinking, introducing us to wealthy figures like the successful Robert who works in PR, to more aspiring characters, like Jasmine, a young photographer and interior designer.
Husbands & Other Lovers deals primarily with the relationship between James, a lawyer, and Susannah, an estate agent, which despite its idyllic appearances, is suffering some problems beneath the surface. James’s alcoholism is their greatest obstacle, which is effectively dealt with by Varley, capturing the destructive nature of his ‘illness’, from denial, to acceptance and finally to rehabilitation.
James’s brother Robert also hides dark secrets and desires behind closed doors; abusing, manipulating and controlling women. However, Varley does not present a one-sided story and simply condemn Robert’s behaviour; she delves into the childhood of each character and explores how past experiences can have grave psychological effects later in life.
Throughout the novel, we witness the fallout from Robert’s previous marriage to Tabitha, who fights for escape from her controlling ex-husband, in an attempt to gain freedom for herself and her daughter. Tabitha is supported by Theo, from the United States, with whom she embarks upon a long-distance relationship; a lovely touch, despite its struggles, to a novel permeated by failing marriages and affairs.
This is not a fairy-tale novel, and thus the final outcomes are not idyllic, but they reflect the true story of modern-day families and marriages, which are frequently affected by divorce, alcoholism and other associated problems. Nonetheless, Husbands & Other Lovers demonstrates a positive view of human nature, as Susannah and James overcome their issues, maturing and developing along the way, and eventually discovering their true desires in life.
It was a shame not to see life through the eyes of Matthew, Sussanah’s son, in regards to his experiences of living with an alcoholic father, and the consequential breakdown of his parents’ marriage. Nonetheless, Varley produces an excellent novel, which insightfully explores relationships in the twenty-first century, emphasising how the decisions which parents make can greatly influence their children’s futures.