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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Book Review: The Matchmaker by Stella Gibbons

The Matchmaker is my third foray into Gibbons's fiction (after Westwood and The Bachelor). This tells the story of Alda Lucie-Browne who, with her three daughters, is awaiting her husband's decommission from the army in a small run-down cottage in the country. Her neighbours include Mr Waite, a chicken farmer, and Mr and Mrs Hoadley who own a nearby farm and supply their milk. The three workers at the farm at two Italian prisoners who live in the nearby camp - Fabrio and Emilio - and Land Girl Sylvia. Rounding out the group is Jean, Alda's old friend, who comes to stay following the death of her father. Alda gets it into her head that Jean would be perfect for Mr Waite (because Jean needs a husband and he needs a wife really) and that Sylvia and Fabrio should marry. She sets around engineering the matches but her calculations don't always prove effective.

I enjoyed this book as much I did the others. Alda is a difficult character to appreciate, meddlesome as she is, but other characters are far easier to relate to. Jean, desperate for a love affair and flirting with religion, became my favourite as she decides on one course, changes her mind then changes her mind again. Sylvia is a complex character, a wannabe actress who doesn't really stand a hope, and manages to repel Fabrio when she's herself and accidentally ensnare him during a visit to another village.

Gibbons's writing style - serious with touches of amusement hidden in almost every line - perfectly accentuates the flaws in each character. Her descriptions of Alda's two elder daughters Louise and Jenny show their differences beautifully without them becoming tedious characters. Fabrio also has the potential to be irritating but his evolution from uninterested in Sylvia to besotted by her mitigates the effects of his romantic personality.

I'm discovering, however, that when I reach the end of a Gibbons book I'm strangely unsatisfied by the finale. This may be because I've lived with the characters and am disappointed to leave them at all. But the ending of The Matchmaker ignored one of the confrontations I wanted to see - that between Alda and Jean - in favour of a 'wrap-up' chapter focused on Alda and then another one focused on Fabrio. I felt somewhat miffed that we skipped a few years then said a swift goodbye to the characters. Still, I don't think this detracted from the book as a whole. There are some memorable characters in this one, as with Gibbons's other novels, and some wonderful observations that had me giggling aloud.

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