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An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance

Warner Books    ISBN 0 446 52956 7 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor

Any woman these days who feels she has a difficult life should read this book: it won't make life any easier, but it will certainly cause one to think that it could be worse.

Lucy Carelton, a young society wife, seems to have it all--or at least, all of it that young women of the upper classes were permitted to have in 1884.

However, what Lucy has is a hollow life, with all the external trappings and none of the interior satisfactions.  Her husband, whom she initially loved, believes that passion is not for chaste women, and makes their intimate life a series of collisions in the darkness, for which he apologises each time.  She has no children, no hobbies, does no good works, and has been treated as if she were a child of limited intellect for most of her life. 

Diagnosed with one of those imaginary conditions so beloved of 19th century doctors, she lives in a perpetual state of nervous tension, and each time she tries to let off steam, she is hushed and warned and reminded of her position in society.

Ready to try anything, her husband William gives her into the care of a new doctor, one who specialises in diseases of the nerves and mind.  Lucy, after initial reluctance, begins to get better, as Victor Seth brings her to an understanding of her past, including her mother's mysterious death,  through hypnosis.  One day the doctor-patient intimacy bursts into flower and Lucy discovers for the first time what Richard has been refusing to give her: sexual fulfilment.

After this there can be no going back.  Lucy tries to seduce her own husband with disastrous results, and one night is drugged and removed to a dreadful asylum where her treatment is all but unbearable.   Victor Seth manages to see her in the asylum and by trickery again becomes her doctor.  Lucy again begins to improve--or so it seems--and she is released from one cage to another: her husband's over-decorated new home in New York.

What happens the night of the housewarming party and how Lucy meets the incredible challenges of the aftermath forms the final chapters of the book.  And on the very last page--

But that would be telling.