Book Review: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband by Barbara Toner

A shortage of men due to the First World War and the flu pandemic, and the discrimination against women, is the backdrop of Barbara Toner's latest novel.

Set in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia, this wonderfully entertaining narrative comments on the social and political aspects of the time as men return from the war to resume their lives and the impact this has on the female population.


When Adelaide Nightingale, Louisa Worthington, Maggie O'Connell and Pearl McLeary threw caution to the winds in the most brazen way imaginable,

disgrace was inevitable.

It's September 1919. The war is over, and everyone who was going to die from the flu has done so. But there's a shortage of husbands and women in strife will flounder without a male to act on their behalf.

And in the southern NSW town of Prospect, four ladies bereft of men have problems that threaten to overwhelm them.

Beautiful Louisa Worthington, whose dashing husband died for King and Country, is being ruined by the debts he left behind.

Young Maggie O'Connell, who lost her mother in childbirth and her father to a redhead, is raising her two wayward brothers and fighting for land she can't prove is hers.

Adelaide Nightingale has a husband, but he's returned from the war in a rage and is refusing to tackle the thieving manager of their famous family store.

Pearl McLeary, Adelaide's new housekeeper, must find her missing fiancé before it's too late and someone dies.

Thank God these desperate ladies have a solution- a part-time husband who will rescue them all. To find him, they'll advertise. To afford him, they'll share . . .

My Thoughts

Despite having the vote, women in 1919 were still dependent on a man to handle certain aspects of their lives. If you didn't have one to turn to or the one you had dismissed your concerns, hiring a part-time husband seemed a very plausible solution. Of course, not all plans are foolproof and how this one goes awry is very entertaining. The outcome, with a few surprising revelations along the way, is the perfect end to a thoroughly delightful book.

In Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband, four equally interesting characters who would normally not have had much to do with one another, are brought together by a common need. Each has a good reason for wanting a strong male character in her life. However, the man who answers the advertisement doesn’t quite fit the bill and initially they question his ability to help them, although they all welcome his good looks and charm. This, in turn, causes further problems within the group. Petty jealousies and disagreements arise as they vie for his attention. While Martin Duffy, the ‘part-time husband’, does the best he can, he knows he is totally out of his depth and ineffectual. But this is not strictly true for he shows what might be achieved if these four ladies could only learn to trust one another and have faith in themselves.

Not only does Barbara Toner delve into the problems facing women and the post war attitudes towards them, she also explores the relationships between the inhabitants of a small town. Prospect is full of colourful characters; the mayor's wife, Frances Mayberry, is certainly one of them. Determined as the four ladies are to prevent a scandal, they find it's not that easy to keep secrets in a place where your every move is noted, your family history is known and a stranger in town is certain to arouse interest and speculation.

I was instantly captivated by Barbara Toner's writing style. Humourous and serious in equal measures, it brought to life the characters, none of whom were perfect but all of them so believable in the context of this story.

Even though it has been a few weeks since I finished this novel, I'm still on a high and have marked it as one of my favourite reads of 2018. There is talk of a sequel; it can't come around soon enough for me.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Australia for a free copy to read and review. It is available for purchase here.