Author: Frances Mensah-Williams
Book: Imperfect Arrangements
Publisher: Kindle Direct Publishing
Price: Paperback £9.99; £3.99 on Kindle
You can purchase the book here: Amazon
Review by Barbara Grant
Theresa, Maku and Lyla have been friends since childhood. Theresa’s mum Clementyne sends her daughter on holiday with Lyla and her family in Ghana. On that first visit, Theresa meets Maku, Lyla’s cousin, who has been sent to live with Lyla’s family in the city, by her parents in hope that she will secure a better education, marry well and build a better life.
Frances Mensah-Williams‘s latest book Imperfect Arrangements explores the divergent paths of these diverse women’s careers, marriages and foray into motherhood. The book examines the three friends’ marital relationships, how they handle shattered hopes and dreams, learn to juggle the expectations of husbands, and the in-laws, and redefine how they love and want to be loved as modern women. Each friend narrates her own story and the lessons learnt.
Theresa, and her new husband Tyler relocate from London to Accra, Ghana, dreaming of shattering the glass ceiling, to build their own businesses – Theresa in PR and Tyler in regeneration and development. At least that was the idea. Soon into their relocation Theresa discovers she is pregnant. Her husband is thrilled with the news but still expects her to support his work goals by attending networking events, to schmooze with potential business associates.
Theresa struggles to meet all that is expected of her with her first pregnancy, as the perfect wife and life partner. Before long she begins to wonder if she is cut out for the demands of her new life. Has she married the wrong man? As she juggles the new baby and building her own business alongside supporting hubby Tyler, she wonders, is this her imperfect arrangement.
Instead of facing her personal demons, the spirited Lyla marries playboy Kwesi at a ‘society wedding’ the local middle class socialites still reference years later. As her corporate management career takes off and eclipses that of her husband, she begins to realise that she must face up to her growing unhappiness as she feels trapped in a loveless marriage with a desire to be a mother while knowing that she will not be accepted or be able to please Kwesi’s overbearingly rude mother.
Street savvy Maku also feels trapped, by her own insecurities arising from the demands of her growing family and a husband, Nortey, who loves her but has seemingly little ambition to pursue his career at the local university. Maku feels cheated out of a white wedding by Nortey’s “snobbish mother”, having to make do instead with a lesser “traditional wedding”.
She questions why her uncensored honesty, isn’t better appreciated by Theresa and Lyla and believes they always act as if they are better than her. If only she hadn’t fallen pregnant, then maybe Nortey’s insufferable mother and sisters would have eventually agreed to the white wedding she still yearns for.
Though the novel only spans a year, the women’s biting take on wifedom, motherhood and mother-in-laws is well-rounded while capturing the ups and downs of relationships and the tensions that arise when traditional Ghana collides with modern Ghana. There is a strong sense of the compromise and sacrifice the three friends are willing to make to manifest the perfect arrangement.
The book also highlights the way women are made to assume total responsibility for the success or failures of marriage in a society struggling to let go of its more traditional patriarchal overtures. The friends soon realise there is more to their friendship than fun, gossiping and baby-sitting. Their tight bond shows that no matter what, when push comes to shove, they can, and must, close ranks, and lean on each other for whatever support is needed.
Their husbands, Kwesi, Nortey and Tyler, are positioned to collectively speak for Ghanaian men. Frances Mensah-Williams show the centralist role African women hold, as wives, mothers, nieces, cousins or even sisters, in a society which remains unapologetically male-orientated.
The trio’s experience in their respective marriages is different, but the desire for something more is the same and brings them a little closer to understanding the complexity or marital relations, being their own person and understanding that love presents itself in different ways.
Imperfect Arrangements is an enjoyable, lively, upbeat tale about transitioning into adulthood, wifedom and motherhood in modern day Ghana.