Thirteen years have passed since Lancashire-born author Trisha Ashley first published Good Husband Material and it’s pleasing to report that age has added a warm of layer of nostalgia to this edgy, earthy, exhilarating love story.
At its heart is a traditional tale of the personal and domestic fall-out when two former lovers meet up again but, to use a well-worn phrase, it’s not always what you say but how you say it that really impresses.
And Ashley, a best-selling author with a huge fan base, certainly knows how to tell a good story... with insight, perfectly pitched poignancy and large helpings of her good old-fashioned northern humour.
Good Husband Material is ideal escapist entertainment; a whimsical yet thoroughly down-to-earth, contemporary rom-com which counterpoints the grim realities of marriage breakdown with elements of fairytale romance and fun and funny observation.
Tish Norwood was only 17 when she met Fergal Rocco, a 22-year-old half-Irish, half-Italian guitarist with an up-and-coming band. He was her first love and if Tish wasn’t Fergal’s first girlfriend, she was certainly the first girl he really loved.
Their romance only lasted a year but it left a big impression on them both, even though Fergal left without saying goodbye.
Twelve years later, Tish is married to solicitor James Drew, a man who practically had ‘Good Husband Material, Ready to Settle Down’ stamped on his forehead when she first met him.
Dear Old Dependable James is handsome, steady and her mother approved of him – so different to Fickle Disreputable Fergal who abandoned her for rock and roll and now lives a typical celebrity lifestyle.
Fergal broke her heart and James helped mend it. Now Tish and James have bought a cottage in the countryside where Tish can write her romantic novels and bake for pleasure. The next step is kids and a lifetime of domestic bliss.
But the best-laid plans really can go awry. For a start, James has a tendency to view the village pub as a second home, has a limited repertoire of expressions (stubborn and sulky among those) and, most disconcerting of all, Tish still dreams constantly and guiltily of Fergal.
Marriage to Mr Right makes her long for Mr Wrong and when Fergal buys (not by chance, it turns out) a stately pile in the same village as Tish and James, his arrival opens up an old wound that has never truly healed.
As always, Ashley creates a charming and lively cast of characters and sets them adrift in a sea of emotional turmoil. To miss their voyage would be to miss a real treat.
(Avon, paperback, £7.99)