Friday, July 29, 2016

When a Man Marries by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Isn't it fun to discover a whole new author just waiting to thrill you? I had this experience the other day digging into my very first Mary Roberts Rinehart book. I'd heard of her before, but I'll be honest with you: my expectations weren't particularly high. Consequently, When a Man Marries, an outrageous vintage farce, was a very pleasant surprise.

Kit McNair may have refused to marry Jimmy Wilson back when he was an unattached bachelor, but she still considers him a close friend, and when she finds him in the dumps on the second anniversary of his wife's departure, she determines that what he needs to cheer him up is a dinner party. Things go quickly awry, however, when Jimmy's rich aunt arrives in town expecting to find him still married. Kit agrees to impersonate the missing Mrs Wilson, but an evening's deception quickly turns into an intricate imbroglio when a case of smallpox results in the whole dinner party being quarantined on the premises. Add police and reporters watching the house for escapees, Jimmy's ex-wife Bella lurking in the basement, a jewel theft to solve, the irascible Aunt Selina to hoodwink, and the love of Kit's life choosing to turn up at the exact moment she's impersonating someone else's wife, and When a Man Marries has all the ingredients for a classic screwball comedy.

This book was, quite frankly, a party. I say this with full cognizance of its shortcomings. This was not a deep book, or a very tightly-plotted one. There's a little harmless satire at the expense of the socialites who, quarantined after the servants have fled, find themselves almost completely incapable of surviving without them; but eventually I felt this theme was dropped and never really resolved. The jewel thefts, too, turn out to have a rather off-the-wall solution, and sometimes Kit doesn't even seem to be trying to keep up her impersonation of Bella. Suffice it to say that if you are the kind of person to whom the internal logic of a story world is immensely important, this book will probably drive you crackers.

That said, I don't think I've ever noticed a book's flaws less while reading it. Rinehart writes with a splendid comic sensibility, inventing ridiculous situations almost as handily as PG Wodehouse at the top of his form. Her style, and the narrator voice, was also a delight--witty and knowing and constantly teasing us with unspecified awfulnesses lurking in the future. From the moment I looked at the first page, I knew I was in for a treat.

If you're in the mood for a fluffy, silly comic read, then give this book a try. I'll certainly be trying another Rinehart next time I am!

Find When a Man Marries on Project Gutenberg, Librivox, The Book Depository, or Amazon.

7 comments:

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Rinehart is one of my favorite lighter-fare vintage authors! She's best known for her mysteries, but I've actually read more of her non-mystery stuff. This one wasn't my favorite, but it was a lot of fun. My favorites would be The Street of Seven Stars, Long Live the King! and Love Stories, and for just plain hilarity, Bab: A Sub-Deb.

Suzannah said...

Oh, your recommendation of Long Live the King! caught my eye a while ago (love a good Ruritanian yarn!) and I've been meaning to try it for a while. Needless to say it's moved a goodish way up my list now!

Lisa S said...

I had never heard of her until on a whim, about 20 years ago, I picked up a book as a souvenir at Glacier National Park written by her. It was called Through Glacier on Horseback in 1915 and was exactly as it sounds. But so funny. She was pretty adventurous. I know her as a mystery writer. I'll have to check out her comedies.

nesskingsley said...

Suzannah! Thanks for reviewing this - another book I simply must read. A bit like Wodehouse? I NEED THIS NOW!

Suzannah said...

Lisa - oh, she wrote non-fiction too? That sounds like good fun! It's always good when someone who writes adventure fiction has led an adventurous life.

Ness - oops, I hope I haven't over-recommended it now! Needless to say, PGW is still the absolute master. However, the ridiculous situations dreamed up by Rinehart in this story are pretty glorious, I must say :).

Lady Bibliophile said...

Mary also wrote a terrific mystery called The Circular Staircase. Though it's been a long time, so I don't remember if there are any bad parts.

Suzannah said...

:D I'll eat it alive, Schuyler.

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