The Marriage Bed
Obviously I’m a sucker for marriage-in-trouble books. Last year, I gave a very controversial B+ grade to Your Wicked Ways by Eloisa James, a book about how a rather unsympathetic estranged married couple fell in love again. This book, The Marriage Bed by Laura Lee Guhrke, has a similar plot, but due to its different characters it is a very, very different book. It’s good, too. If you like marriage-in-trouble books but hated the characters in Your Wicked Ways, you might like this one better; but if the idea of a cheating husband makes you see red, you might want to skip it.
Eight years ago, the idealistic and naïve young Viola married John, Viscount Hammond. She adored him. She discovered, after the marriage, that John married her for her money, and that he’d kept a mistress during their engagement. Heartbroken, she refused to sleep with John any longer, and after a period of abstinence, John went elsewhere. Now, eight years, several mistresses, and a few catastrophic attempts at reconciliation later, John and Viola never speak. But that’s not a situation that is destined to last: John’s cousin and heir has died. He needs to father a son in order to save his estates from his next heir, this one an utter wastrel. John asks Viola to return home and carry out her wifely duties. Viola, whose heart was shattered by John’s infidelities, is determined to do nothing of the kind.
I enjoyed the maneuverings that followed. John could go to the courts to force his wife to comply, but to do that would be to shatter any hope of a truce. John may not be in love the way the romantic Viola wishes he were, but likes his wife; he never intended to hurt her, and he wants a future with her. He wants Viola to be happy in his bedroom, not passive or resistant. John uses kindness to win her, rather than demands or force, and the result is a novel that is romantic and quite sweet.
This book is about two people who were both at fault, although he was clearly far more at fault than she. Viola entered into the marriage with her head filled with romantic notions, and when those notions turned out to be untrue, she froze her husband out. Gradually in this book she comes to realize that John’s untruths were never deliberately cruel – sometimes they weren’t even conscious. John has a lot more self-examination to do. Not only does he have to work his way back into Viola’s good graces; he needs to understand that in his dealings with women he has been fundamentally dishonest. Sex is not really the heart of the issue: they need to find a way to trust one another again.
John is a sympathetic character, a charming sweet-talker who never really considers that people might take his sweet talk at face value. I enjoyed his complexity; he has a troubled past, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time stormily brooding. He starts out trying to get Viola to do what he wants, but ends by falling hopelessly in love with her. Viola is more straightforward and less complex. She loves John, and always has; her challenge is to figure out how to deal with him. They have lots of chemistry, and the love scenes in this book are very hot.
If you are a person who doesn’t want to read about infidelity – no way, no how – then do not read this book. John cheated on his wife. He doesn’t cheat on her during the course of the book, but he must constantly deal with the fallout of his actions. I thought he came to a realization of how harmful his infidelity was, not just to Viola but to others, and so I was okay with it. But if this is a hot-button issue for you, beware.
If you can get around that, then The Marriage Bed is an enjoyable book. The marriage-in-trouble novel has been done before, and it will be done again; but probably not often as well as it is done here. I relished it.