Engaging, witty fare, Saunders’s novel of matchmaking gone awry (think modern-day Emma) is smart fiction masquerading as a light summer read.
Phoebe has a last dying wish—to see her two sons happily wed. Ben Darling, unemployed pianist, and Fritz Darling, unemployed actor, are handsome, charming men. In fact, they’ve charmed the knickers off of half the girls in London. But Phoebe wants better for her boys, so calls on Cassie to help. As a small girl, she spent lonely days peeping through the hedge to the Darling’s back garden (her own parents were icy and indifferent) until the Darlings brought her into their happy fold. As a grateful surrogate daughter, Cassie dotes on sweet Phoebe and promises to find proper matches for her sons, but she’s without Phoebe’s blind loyalty and sees Ben and Fritz for what they are. Bemoaned in her circle of high-achieving friends, the Darling boys are the archetype of spoiled foppishness, irresponsibility and devastating magnetism, used to lure sensible girls into their web of short-term bliss. Nevertheless, Cassie cleans the two up, scrubs their flat (really just the basement of their mother’s posh home) and makes them promise to get some kind of paying job. Cassie’s initial success begins to diminish as love lives go in all sorts of unplanned directions—including Cassie’s own. Practically engaged (as she always claims) to the stodgy Mathew, Cassie finds him in bed with her friend Honor. Hazel, who she had planned to match with Ben, is instead getting hitched to Jonah, an even lazier lad than the Darling boys, and best friend Annabel, well-matched with Fritz, is reeling now that he’s dumped her for a haughty actress. Cassie complains she feels trapped in an Anita Brookner novel, instead of Helen Fielding. And, of course, shadowing everything is Phoebe’s impending death, her sons’ touching, desperate devotion to her and the worry that her best, last wish may not come true.
London lovers and happy families unite in this satisfying and touching work.