never intended to read it - honest! It wasn't meant to happen. For years now I have just about managed to steer well clear of the literary rubbish tip that is known as "chick lit" (by which I mean the growing body of fiction aimed at modern young women in particular) but this weekend I somehow slipped in. I had managed to open it and was several chapters in before I knew what was happening. By the time I realized I'd been hooked I thought I may as well finish the book anyway. It all happened so quickly there wasn't any time to defend my self but looking back I can see I was the victim of a cruel trick on the part of Maeve Haran; I wish I had never set eyes on "The Farmer Wants a Wife" - I feel cheap, dirty and well and truly used.
The book was one of ten I'd bought from a local charity shop for the bargain price of just one Pound. I'd picked it out as one likely to show a profit if sold on and my ordeal began the next afternoon as I innocently flicked through it. I suppose I was curious, I usually am; I came up with a cunning plan to condone what I was about to do. This was purely research, a fact-finding mission - at the end of it nobody would be able to suggest I had no grounds to comment on "chick lit" because I hadn't read any, this would be the justification I needed to unleash my incisive comments about this dreadful waste of paper!
The novel's central character is Flora Parker; she lives a hedonist's life in London, a real party girl who acts first, regrets later. She wakes up one morning to find the odious Miles in her bed and her face in the newspaper. Thoroughly ashamed and making the decision that she can no longer go on like this, she jumps in her car, wearing only a pair of leopard-skin knickers under a raincoat, and heads off to the country to seek sanctuary under the wing of her Aunt Prue.
When she gets there she realizes two things; first, Aunt Prue's family is not the picture of domestic bliss Flora had always imagined, and, second, life in the country was not going to be as dull as she had at first suspected. Heirless local farmer and land owner Kingsley Moreton has issued an ultimatum to his two handsome nephews - whoever marries first will inherit the house and farm, should neither take the plunge by Michaelmas, he will sell the property outside the family. Will it be Adam the farmyard lothario, much admired by most women in the county, or perhaps he'll be beaten to the altar by his more serious and sensible brother Hugo?
Marriage is the last thing on Flora's mind but she too gets drawn into the compelling saga of Kingsley's inheritance while, at the same time trying to come up with a plan to save her aunt and uncle's farm from financial ruin. A fantastic opportunity presents itself but is Flora willing to take the risk?
Maeve Haran is an accomplished storyteller, of that there can be no doubt. She has the ability to draw the reader in and make them want to know what is going to happen next. This comes from a combination of using such economy of writing to keep the reader guessing and creating characters that the reader can care about without resorting to overblown characterization, which would be redundant here. There is simply no need to present complete and deep characters, it is enough to create a handful of characters the reader can identify with and get to know quickly. Haran's writing style is pacy, confident and easy to engage with. My only criticism would be an over-reliance on dialogue rather than description, but this is really personal preference, in fact it is because most of the story is told through dialogue that it moves along so quickly.
The characters are fun and realistic, if a little stereotypical so we encounter the rather eccentric childless farmer, the lusty young farmer who enjoys a roll in the hay, the conniving barmaid and so on. The situations, too, are realistic with just enough comedic moments to keep things credible. I didn't find the novel "laugh out loud" funny but it did make me smile.
What impressed me in particular was the more touching and serious side of the story which described the difficulties facing small farmers in Britain today which was introduced through the character of Uncle Francis who Flora manages to smuggle home when she finds him slumped over a table in the village pub having spent the entire afternoon drowning his sorrows. The factual stuff was woven seamlessly into the body of the novel without being overly didactic or presenting too much of a distraction from the main story.
"The Farmer Wants a Wife" is essentially one step up from the kind of paperback romance churned out by Mills and Boon et al. It has the romance, the minor titillation, the middle-class characters but it has something else which elevates it; the attention to detail and the contemporary feel to it make this a readable book and one which does not deserve to be dismissed completely without consideration. However, I can't help but think that Maeve Haran has simply dragged this story into the realms of contemporary womens' fiction by using a few cheap tricks. References to hot pink Manolo Blahnik shoes and other designer labels, mention of exclusive London bars and eateries and other name-dropping opportunities are exploited to the full. Strip these away and you have a pretty standard "aga saga" and little more.
I may or may not pick up another sample from the "chick lit" genre, but I have certainly learnt a thing or two from this experience; the main one is that even when you do judge a book by its cover, pleasant surprises can still be in store. This is unchallenging holiday reading, light and frothy and conveniently handbag-sized.
My gut instinct is to recommend this novel, but only for those who enjoy the genre. "The Farmer Wants a Wife" is never going to shatter any illusions but I can see it being much enjoyed.
384 pages, ISBN - 0751532843
Availabe from just a few pence through amazon.co.uk and ebay.co.uk