Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: The Arrangement by Mary Balogh

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It took a blind man to see: Sophia Fry has been invisible for most of her life. She lives quietly in her uncle and aunt's home in Barton Coombs, the unwanted poor relative whose presence is only minimally tolerated. Her only form of expression are her sketches of the things around her and always with a mouse on the very edges of the page.

It took a woman of meager circumstance to set him free: Vincent Hunt is a young man of twenty three, who was blinded in battle at the young age of seventeen. When he returned home from war, he unexpectedly inherited his uncle's viscountcy. Now Vincent must grapple not only his new life as a young blind man, but he must also deal with the responsibilities that come with being a young, blind viscount.

Limited: Both Vincent and Sophia are limited by their circumstances. Sophia has no money and no place to go -- she depends solely on the sufferance of her relatives. When Vincent arrives in Barton Coombs and gets swept up in the social whirl of the small town, Sophia's hopes soar when Vincent notices her when no one else does.

Who was she? She had not even been introduced to him or been included in any of the conversation. Her only spoken words all evening had been yes, aunt. But she must have been there all the time.

He felt rather indignant on her behalf, whoever she was She was apparently a member of the family, yet she had been ignored except when there was an errand to be run. She had sat all evening as quiet as a mouse.
- Chapter 3

When she sees her aunt and cousin maneuvering to ensnare Vincent, she steps out of her corner and helps him -- at a great personal cost: that same evening, she was thrown out of her aunt's home with only the clothes on her back and enough money to get to London.

Vincent and Sophia are both struggling to reclaim their lives. Separately, they haven't been successful but, together, they gain ground -- inch by hesitant inch.

From passive to active: Vincent and Sophia's transformation is physical and mental. Vincent had already conquered much of his disability through exercise and sheer determination -- but he had closed himself off to the world. He had lived at Middlebury for three years and allowed things to be done to him and for him -- even before he met Sophia, he had resolved to change his ways -- but he wasn't quite sure how he was going to accomplish it. Saving Sophia, marrying Sophia were two decisions that Vincent made that wasn't entirely selfish. And Sophia broadened his world and his perspective.

His years of dependency were past. It was time to grow up and take charge. It was not going to be easy. But he had long ago realized that he must treat his blindness as a challenge rather than as a handicap if he wished to enjoy anything like a happy, fulfilled life.
- Chapter 1

Saying yes to Vincent, accepting Vincent's offer of marriage was the first selfish thing that Sophia ever did -- through her marriage, she found her voice and her identity.

"I have never done anything with my life," she said. "I have merely endured and observed and dreamed -- and laughed a the foolishness I see around me. I have always lived on the outer fringes. Now I am to be mistress of Middlebury Park. No, not to be. I am."
- Chapter 13

The conflict of The Arrangement is very subtle -- but it is there. As you read about Vincent's successes, about his sight dog and about the track that Sophie has designed so that he could ride unassisted, you keep wondering: when is the other shoe going to drop? Because you know it will.

There is a sense of foreboding felt by both the characters and the readers because Vincent and Sophie entered into this marriage with an agreement: one year together, to keep Vincent's well-meaning relatives at bay and for Sophie to gain some traction and work towards building her dream cottage. After the year is over, the can go their separate ways and live the life they dreamed of living.

But what neither one knows is that the other has changed their mind about the arrangement -- both want not just a year, but their entire lifetime together. Mary Balogh expertly builds up on the dramatic irony through a series of misheard and misunderstood conversations -- our characters agonize over the other's happiness. She lays the groundwork for a bittersweet victory for our hero and heroine: they would both gain their independence -- not just from their disability and circumstance -- but also from each other.

How could they ask it of one another, when each one has already given so much? It is the final obstacle for our hero and heroine to overcome -- and a test of how much they have grown in their time together.

Mary Balogh ends Vincent and Sophie's story happily, but it isn't grandiose or operatic -- our hero and heroine's triumph is quiet and intimate, much like their personalities. Overall, this was another wonderful, wonderful read from Mary Balogh.

The Arrangement is the amazing follow-up to The Proposal and I'm very excited for the next installment of her Survivors' Club series.

To find out more about Mary Balogh and her books, click below:



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