A London charity czarina and her fabulous lobbyist husband run aground over the shallows of marital infidelity in this latest from British novelist Vincenzi (No Angel, 2003, etc.).
Octavia Fleming is the kind of fashionable, well-connected working mother who manages both to enrich her power marriage with social contacts and to return home intact to tuck in her school-age twins and her baby. “Combine and Rule” is how the glossies treat the Flemings’ marriage, although Octavia finds her professional integrity in danger of compromise when public-affairs consultant Tom Fleming suggests she throw her sensitive charity know-how into helping a developer construct a community center. Meanwhile, Octavia’s businessman father, Felix Miller, detests Tom for taking his only daughter away from him (her mother died in childbirth), but tosses the son-in-law business from time to time; aging Felix has a longtime society live-in girlfriend, Marianne, who has to shuffle two teenaged daughters, Romilly and Zoë, as well as appease her temperamental lover. There is a cast of thousands in this busy, tedious novel, and once Octavia finds evidence of Tom’s affair, she reveals as much to her father. Plus, she has to deal with the news that the mother of her best friend from college, Louise, is sick with cancer, while Tom seems to be pounding away at easing a proposed merger of charming player Nico Cadogan’s financial group. Even politicians make a timely cameo here, in the form of Gabriel Bingham, a Labour leader who is also extremely attracted to the bereft Octavia. Yet Octavia simply can’t resist loving her sexy husband. As for the prospect of being a stay-at-home mom: It would have left the restless, questing, ambitious Octavia “bored, depressed, and therefore, and inevitably, a bad mother.”
Vincenzi’s fatally bloated novel nods to the sweet daddy-daughter partnership, and neatly compartmentalizes the guilt working women feel for leaving their children at home with nannies.