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The Quandary by Jo-Anne Southern

four stars

The Quandary by Jo-Anne Southern is a fast-paced narrative about Canadian Gail Montgomery and how she recovers from the death of her British husband, John. Set in England beginning in 1959, Southern’s novel explores not only the burgeoning women’s movement through Gail’s character but also the tension between changing social mores and the stagnant behavior of England’s upper crust. The novel opens during John Montgomery’s funeral, a tragic event that wreaks havoc on Gail’s family. In their traditional marriage, John handled all of the finances, and Gail is left with no money, and soon, no home for herself and her three children. Gail struggles to keep her family together and her children in school and takes a job as a server at a local pub. Gail’s older children are mortified by their reduced circumstances and even accuse their mother of squandering their father’s money. The truth, however, is that John’s finances are complex and he seems to have hidden money from Gail, who meets many setbacks trying to recover it.

Just when it seems that Gail will have to move back to Toronto, she meets Geoffrey Haslett, a wealthy and successful lawyer. Soon she is visiting Geoffrey’s estate and meeting his mother, Jill, who soon proposes that Gail marry Geoffrey in order to help her financially and to help Geoffrey professionally as well as to provide Geoffrey, who is impotent, with an heir. Under pressure from her own persistent financial concerns as well as from her snobbish and pretentious older children, Gail agrees to marry Geoffrey. She quickly realizes the mistake she has made. Not only is she lonely, in her sexless marriage, but Jill attempts to control every aspect of Gail’s life and that of her children. Gail eventually must decide whether the financial comfort her marriage brings her is greater than her own need for independence. Southern provides a fascinating character study in Gail Montgomery, even if the character is not always the most sympathetic. Furthermore, Southern spends a bit too much time detailing the horrendous behavior of Gail’s mother-in-law and Gail’s children and not enough time exploring Gail’s quest to find John’s money. Nonetheless, The Quandary is an excellent and entertaining read, which will keep the reader hooked from beginning to end.