Blurb from inside the flap;
Hot shot young lawyer Bill Holden and his wife Becca move their four-year-old daughter to the booming, gold-rush city of Shanghai. It is a place of opportunity and temptation, where fortunes are made and foreign marriages come apart in spectacular fashion. Bill’s law firm houses the Holden family in Paradise Mansions – a luxury apartment block full of ‘second wives’: beautiful young women like JinJin Li, ex-school teacher, crossword addict, dedicated roller skater and the Holden’s neighbour. After Becca witnesses a near-tragedy, she returns temporarily to London with Holly – and Bill and JinJin are thrown together. Bill wants to be a better man than the millionaire who keeps JinJin Li as a second wife. Better than any man who cheats. Becca is his best friend. But in the end can he give JinJin anything different – can he give her the love she deserves? And can he love his wife too?
My Favourite Wife is a book about the men and women of our time – their struggles, their joys and their secret longings. Above all it is a book about where sex, romance and obsession ends, and where true love begins.
I chose to read this because I have enjoyed Tony Parson’s previous books. This is the story of Bill, a young lawyer who moves to Shanghai with his wife and child for a better life. Bill inadvertently gets involved with a Chinese woman and ultimately the saga is about the agonies of having an extra marital affair, loving two women at the same time and the angst of what he should do. He goes to extraordinary heroic lengths to come up smelling of roses.
I did not warm to Bill as the main character and ultimately did not enjoy reading the book. Shanghai is painted as seedy and unpleasant with very few redeeming features. Apart from one female lawyer colleague all the other Chinese female characters are prostitutes or kept women and we are lead to believe that Bill gets to know them, sees past the veneer of their ‘working’ lives, defends them stoically while his other male colleagues just get stuck in. It’s almost misogynistic leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
His wife, Becca is saintly and forgiving, painted as the perfect woman as is the mistress Jin Jin Li. Explanations as to why Becca left Shanghai to return home are glossed over and an affair with a doctor who just happens to be in the right place is only hinted at. ‘Touching faces with fingertips’ was an irritatingly overused phrase.
The book gives us some useful insight into the rapid societal changes taking place in China, it highlights the evident social inequalities and helps us understand some of their customs.
Ultimately I think Bill and Becca are not believable characters to me and I was disappointed. I would be very interested to read what others think.