Book review: The Darker Side of Love by Jessica Ruston

They say that love makes the world go round – and maybe it does.

But it can also bring pain, disappointment, heartbreak ... and danger.

Jessica Ruston departs from standard chick-lit here in a gripping tale of love in its many guises, a fascinating slant on the age-old concept of ‘romance.’

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She takes four seemingly ordinary couples – all friends, all very modern and successful, all seemingly happy with their lives and loves – but beneath their shiny exteriors lurk dark shadows, frustrations, secrets and lies.

And it’s this hint of foiled ambitions, broken dreams and a burgeoning sub-plot of growing menace that makes The Darker Side of Love so refreshingly different and rewarding.

It’s the late ‘noughties’ and a global recession is looming. The four thirty-something friends – Stella, Izzy, Caroline and Harriet – are bound together through school, marriage and a tightly woven web of memories.

Caroline and her new husband Bart are a ‘grown-up’ sort of couple. They like exhibitions, smart shops and talks by eminent speakers.

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It took Caroline a long time to find Mr Right and now she’s desperate for a baby before her body clock starts its countdown. But there’s no sign of pregnancy and she’s getting desperate...

Harriet and Will have been dating for seven years so why won’t he pop the question? His lack of enthusiasm for marriage is becoming an embarrassment for poor Harriet.

Izzy and James are married with two beautiful children but such perfection makes glamorous, ambitious Izzy feel bored and trapped. She’s even looked into flights that would whisk her far away from home.

And then there’s party girl Stella who has a very bohemian marriage to wild musician Johnny and is mother of their baby son Viking. Recently Johnny has changed the ‘rules’ and suddenly they are like strangers to each other.

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They are all telling lies to those closest to them and they are all about to discover that the truth won’t stay buried forever...

Ruston carefully crafts her characters and then allows their present and past to unfold. Hidden worries, jealousies and desires rise to the surface as each of the women is forced to face her demons and, ultimately, a violent showdown.

A clever and thoughtful story from an author with her eyes fixed firmly on the game of life.

(Headline Review, paperback, £6.99)