"Those Who Serve"

Those Who Serve by Marcia Willett

I think they got the title wrong. It should be called "How Many Extra-marital Affairs Can We Fit Into One Novel?" Seriously. It paints an almost hopeless picture of British Navy marriages.

The story follows two best friends who marry submariners and settle down in Navy living quarters, frequently moving to new postings, socializing with other Navy wives and spending long weeks/months alone while their husbands are at sea.

The first half is more focused on Kate and her poor excuse for a husband, Mark, and their twin sons. Her friend Cass's story is secondary until the spotlight turns on her in the last half. Cass and her husband, Tom, haven't much of a story other than their rotating affairs, which are treated very lightly, more as humour than anything else, except for Kate's rather melodramatic warning that if Cass keeps playing Russian roulette one day she'll take the bullet.

I found the story, the writing and the characters unbelievable. There were awkward places in the writing, like one where the point of view changes not just mid-chapter, but mid-conversation. In one particularly hard to believe scene, Kate runs into an old acquaintance. They comment on how it's been "years and years" since they've seen each other, and that was mostly in passing at social events, then the other woman says she really wants to talk to Kate about the personal problems she's having so they have lunch and she tells all. Not very realistic for people who are just acquaintances. I couldn't get past these bumps in the writing long enough to get into the story.  

The characters seemed flat and disconnected from the emotions they were expressing. Most of them never became much more than names on a page. There were a couple of characters I liked; Cass's father, "The General", becomes a source of comfort and wisdom for Kate in his later years, and The General's housekeeper is a more realistic character who brings a bit of humour to the story.

I didn't like this book at all; I was very disappointed. But - Marcia Willett has a long list of novels under her belt and I'm going to trust that they get better and try again. Question is, which one should I read next? Do you have a favorite? One you tell everybody they absolutely must read? I need a good one, otherwise I'll never convince myself to pick up a third. Please do take pity on me and leave a comment with your suggested title. Thanks!


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