In Arranged by Catherine Mackenzie, Anne Blythe is a woman on the brink of success. She has completed a novel and is in the process of finding a publisher. She has a great support system in her loving family and friends, and supportive co-workers. The one area of her life that remains tricky is her love life. She has just broken up with the latest in a string of boyfriends that are remarkably similar to one another, not only in looks, but also in the fact that each has proved unsuccessful in terms of ending in marriage. After breaking up with her last boyfriend, Anne moves into her own apartment and by chance comes across a card for the Blythe Company. Interested in what is presumably an unfamiliar dating company, Anne finds that they are in it for the long haul. After her friend becomes engaged, a slightly jealous Anne signs up with Blythe and Company even though they don’t arrange dates, they arrange marriages.
I am the first to admit that contemporary romance is not my cup of tea, but I couldn’t resist this one. My interest came in wanting to see how the author would approach arranged marriages from an American perspective. What questions would plague her heroine? What benefits would be offered in face of American skepticism and a staggering list of cons stemming from the ingrained belief in choosing one’s own partner? In the belief that this is the only way to have a successful marriage? In this respect Mackenzie has offered a thoughtful and well-considered analysis of relationships and how an arranged marriage might come to be understood as feasible and successful choice in a modern society. Anne’s time spent in pre-marriage counseling, the rationale for the Blythe Company’s processes, her own eventual embrace of arranged marriage, and both her stance and the company’s in enlightening family and friends, was solidly planned and thought-provoking. I enjoyed the depth and insight in this part of the novel.
Unfortunately, other aspects of Arranged proved less satisfying. The introductory section where we get to know Anne and her family and friends was painfully bland. Anne and her family are run of the mill rather than endearing, and the relationships and dialogue between her and her loved ones consist of pretty thin retreads of the clichés rife in contemporary romance. Not only weren’t there any surprises with these characters and their roles to each other, there also wasn’t enough depth for me to feel much for any of them. Anne is unfortunately named because of her mother’s obsession with Anne of Green Gables, and much is made of this through the novel, but even that angle wasn’t particularly appealing to me. My interest piqued again in a plot twist I really should have seen coming, but then book ambles on toward happily ever after in a way that didn’t sit well with me after all that was involved. I wanted to read this because I loved the idea of the unique premise, but almost everything else goes against the grain of what I find enjoyable.