After what seems like five years of wedding planning, Dora has realised that she doesn't actually love her fiance, John. Unwilling to go ahead with the marriage despite pressure from her mother and from their small village, where everyone knows and is related to either her or John, Dora flees to London and her friend Karen's mother, Jo, who's barge-sitting.
Jo thought her life was stable and on track, but when her husband unceremoniously traded her in for a younger mode she was cast adrift. She knows nothing about barges, but Phillip's strong reaction of disapproval decided her - he was now her ex-husband and no longer got to say what she could and couldn't do.
As the women, a generation apart but in a similar situation, discover who they are as individuals rather than couples, they learn that they are less constrained than they first thought. Out of necessity and chance, Jo discovers she has a previously unknown and unsuspected gift for refurbishing antiques, and as part of a series of dares Dora takes on an office manager role in a boat yard. They also find love.
Fforde's romance covers familiar ground but, as is so often the case with her work, in a fresh way. While the blossoming relationships are important, the emphasis in Going Dutch (the tile refers to a trip to the Netherlands) is on female empowerment, with a strong message that this is possible at any age. Dora is only twenty-two but already believes her option are limited, and at almost fifty Jo discovers an entire world of both possibility and freedom she never imagined when fettered by a pedestrian, middle class husband.
Quintessentially English, Going Dutch has something to offer readers everywhere. It's fresh and engaging, and though not my favourite book of even the month it's well worth the time. - Alex