Monday, September 26, 2011

On Marriage: A Review of Mistress by Marriage by Maggie Robinson

Mistress by Marriage is the bookclub pick over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The chat takes place at 9pm on Tuesday September 27th.

The premise of this book is essentially the "marriage in trouble" trope. Edward and Caroline are trapped in a terrible marriage. Edward is strict and stuffy. Caroline is wild. The two have amazing chemistry in bed, but can't get along outside of it. For most of their marriage, Caroline has been banished to Jane Street, a district usually reserved for rich gentleman's mistresses. Edward visits once a year so they can have sex, but otherwise she's left to her own devices. She makes friends with courtesans and writes dirty novels. Both she and Edward assume that it's only a matter of time before Edward works up the nerve to sue for formal divorce. But then Edward decides that perhaps once a year is not enough for him...

Positive comments:

The characters are certainly original and interesting. Caroline frustrated me a bit, but she had her redeeming qualities. I liked that she made a life for herself on Jane Street--consorting with fallen women and writing her dirty books. I was really amused by the details of her books--how she'd write Edward as a villain or a hero. Edward is a rather priggish character who clearly needs some shaking up. I did enjoy the opposites attract  aspect of the relationship.

The love scenes are hot, and there are many of them. I'm not sure that this can be labeled as erotica, but I do think it would appeal to many fans of erotica.

This book is full to bursting with angst. That could be a positive or negative depending on taste, but for the most part, I liked it. There's a great deal of emotional struggle, and a lot of character development as a result.

Critical Comments:

I'm actually not a huge fan of the "marriage in trouble" trope. It especially did not work for me in this book, because I got the sense that the characters were never actually in love at the beginning of their marriage. Edward was in lust, Caroline needed to be married, so they got married. There didn't seem to be any real basis for an emotional connection between the two of them.

I never fully connected to the story. At times it felt forced, other times it felt aimless. There was nothing in the plot to get me really excited, or keep me wondering what would happen next. It's predictable. It's not boring, exactly, but it certainly isn't exciting.

I mentioned Caroline's personality as a positive, but there are also aspects of it that were negative. She throws temper tantrums and breaks things, and she behaves and thinks like a child. Those details really frustrated me because they made me re-think whether this was a character who deserves a happily-ever-after.

My final point is something I feel a little uncomfortable bringing up. An expert in history, I am not. But the characters in this story just didn't seem to behave as I would expect for people of that time period. I can't put my finger on exactly what's wrong--whether it's the dialogue, the narrative, or the plot itself. The characters' attitudes were one thing that stood out particularly. At one point, Edward and Caroline were discussing a child molester, in comparison to a homosexual person. Edward is really quick to announce that gay men are a-okay as far as he's concerned. Here's the quote--

"No. Most men of that persuasion would not (molest a young boy). They are simply seeking affection like the rest of us, although they can be hung for it."--Maggie Robinson, Mistress by Marriage
Maybe I'm wrong, but doesn't that strike you as a little too enlightened? A little too modern of a view point? Especially for a stuffy, by-the-books hero? My point in all of this is, the book doesn't successfully recreate the atmosphere of it's time period. The story could easily have taken place today, with a few adjustments, or in any other time period.

So overall, I did like some aspects of the book. I think if you like "marriage in trouble" stories or "opposites attract" stories, this book might be worth reading for you. For me it was just average. 2.5 stars.


  1. I don't mind the cover to this one so much but I find that the older I get the less romance novels appeal to me. This one is actually one I might read for the fact that Caroline seems to have a pretty interesting life!

  2. This doesn't really sound like a book I'd enjoy, because I hate headstrong, childish heroines. But I loved your review--I practically feel like I read the book :)

  3. Lan--Caroline has an interesting lifestyle, that's for sure.

    Karen--Thank you! I hate childish behavior in any protagonist. It's quite off-putting.

  4. This sounds like an interesting read! Sorry you weren't able to connect with the story. I hate when that happens!

  5. Christy--Ya, I hate it too! Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a book, but it's just not to your taste.

  6. Nice review! I think I'll skip this one though...

  7. I am definitely going to put this one on my TBR. I have a thing for books overflowing with angst. Although I do prefer to know that the main pairing love each other in spite of the angst.

    I love how you organize your reviews. It's so helpful.

  8. Grace, thank you! I hope you enjoy the book!


Thoughtful comments are appreciated! I always respond to them, and I usually return the favor! Happy reading!

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