Once upon a time, I was a Robin Schone fan. I consider that a fair statement after enjoying one book by her and a couple of novellas. I wasn’t exactly eager to read her next book as I’d read and discarded quite a few of her previous titles. The Men and Women’s Club by Robin Schone was at one time, an anticipated novel. I remember saying that I would wait but I didn’t. Foolish ness on my part to be so impulsive. I just saw it and bought it. Also, I can’t say that it was worth the wait either because I read/skimmed to the end.
Scandalous Lovers didn’t have much going for it outside the book. Hate the title and my expectations were rather low. So this book already had a head start to win my affections but it didn’t. My track history with Ms. Schone isn’t a good one. I hadn’t enjoyed a Robin Schone book since The Lady’s Tutor which was published way back in 1999. Those were the good ole days. This was an impulsive buy and one that I regret purchasing. Here is the synopsis for you:
Married at fifteen and widowed at forty-nine, country-bred Frances Hart has by turns been a wife, a mother, a nurse, and a grandmother — yet she doesn’t know what it’s like to simply be a woman. Determined to broaden her horizons on every level, she makes her way to London for a season of gaiety, entertainment… and perhaps more.
A successful London barrister and now a widower, James Whitcox knows duty, but has never known passion. He joins an exclusive society founded to discuss sexual relations — but talking of the pleasures of the flesh is a far cry from experiencing them firsthand. Then Frances Hart accidentally barges into a meeting, enlightening the Men and Women’s Club about a woman’s needs — and tempting James to put theory into practice….
The start of the novel was pretty good. Country bumpkin, Frances Hart is new to London. She’s a widow and a mother of five; she is also a grandmother at 49. On her first day of touring the city, she visits the museum. In her attempt to find the water closet, she barges into the wrong room. The room she enters belongs to the members of the Men and Women’s Club. A club established with the express purpose of discussing and understanding human sexuality. The club’s twelve members include a barrister, a doctor, a teacher and a suffragette among other professions. All are wowed by Frances’s epiphany on women’s needs.
The author decides to set her story in the mid-Victorian era (1880’s) where social issues for women were on the cusp of change. James Whitcox is a wealthy and successful barrister of the court and widowed. Upon Frances’s accidental entrance into the club, he asks her a few questions that manages to enlighten and intrigue the club’s members (obviously it doesn’t take much to impress these people). She is invited back and is unanimously voted into the club. Meanwhile, James is in court defending Mrs. Bartle and her lover who are on trial for the murder of her husband. The Crown seeks to hang her. The trial is told alongside Francis and James’ lust filled adventures.
I could have continued reading this book but Ms. Schone’s prose style is absolutely ridiculous at times. Why does she write like this? Here is a sample:
“I thought my ambition was for my family.” He stared at the past. “It wasn’t.”
The bleakness of his voice clogged her throat.
“I thought I was a man.”
The corridor closed around them.
“I was a husband; I was a father; I was a barrister–“
Frances didn’t want to feel the pain that blossomed inside her chest, or the knowledge that tightened her skin.
“—but I wasn’t a man,” he concluded.
“But you want to be a man,” she said unevenly.
Maybe some of you found that scene rather touching but try reading about how many times Frances wants to be a woman and James want to be man over and over again. Both have children and Frances even has grandchildren yet neither has ever experienced passion. I could maybe understand why Frances didn’t but James? He had mistresses. While married and after his wife died. What a prince. This is another romance cliche that I hate in that the hero has slept with his share of women but lo and behold, with the right woman he is able to feel passion. I’m sure it was a symbolic gesture on James’s part to admit that he’d never had a orgasm before, too. I couldn’t take these people seriously. Ms. Schone’s prose style is dispassionate and her characters are distant. Where was the chemistry? Everything was written so aesthetic: You can hear footsteps on the floor, hear muted laughter down the hall, smell carmel on his breath, the creak of the carriage rolling by outside.
The problems for me besides the prose was not getting a very good, clear picture of these people in my head. First problem for me was that there really wasn’t much chemistry between Frances and James. It seemed somewhat forced. However, I liked the premise of the story but it was just poorly executed. I skimmed to the end to see the resolution of the murder trial and to read the love scenes, which were not all that original nor memorable. I ended up skimming those too (unoriginal). The good points for the novel was that it moved quickly and the murder trial was interesting at the start.
As I conclude my thoughts I had to ask myself if I wasn’t just in the mood for this type of book? Usually after reading a really good book, it’s hard to find a follow-up. Maybe this book suffered from that. I just know that the prose didn’t work for me, these characters were not the least bit interesting to me. I was just disinterested. However the pacing was pretty good and so the story moved briskly enough. However, that’s not enough to save this book. Thus I must grade this book average. It wasn’t horrible but it certainly wasn’t memorable. Maybe you’ll have better luck. It’s a C- for me.