By Robyn Harding
ISBN: 978 1 760850463
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2019)
“The Arrangement” is both a thriller and a character study, and is compelling on both levels. Once you start reading, there’s every chance you won’t stop until you’ve reached the end.
Natalie is an art student in New York, and like many students, she’s struggling to pay her bills. A fellow student who is doing very well financially makes a suggestion: find a sugar daddy to pay her bills. Her friend assures her that all they’re paying for is her company – she doesn’t have to sleep with anyone. Just look pretty and be entertaining for dinner or drinks.
It sounds like prostitution to Nat, and she’s not sure. But a financial crisis propels her “into the sugar bowl”. And at once, she meets Gabe. He’s more handsome and charming than she’d expected, and before long she’s madly in love with him. She keeps accepting his cash gifts, of course. But she’s not a whore if they’re in love, is she?
There is one tiny problem. Gabe is married and has no plans to leave his family. He’s told Natalie he’s divorced. Natalie’s dreams of a future together are built on very shaky ground, and when Gabe ends the business arrangement without warning, she loses it. She’s drinking too much, stalking Gabe and his family, and making threats.
And then someone dies.
Harding makes it easy to understand how Natalie slips into being a sugar baby despite her initial doubts, and even easier to understand how Natalie loses sight of the fact it’s purely business. It’s completely credible, and even as Natalie falls apart, most readers will be strongly on her side. Her behaviour isn’t okay, but it’s not hard to see where it’s coming from.
Although it’s Natalie’s psyche that Harding is most interested in, other characters are also believable. In particular, we see a lot of Gabe, and most women will recognise him too. Entitled and vain, Gabe thinks the rules are different for him. But we see his charm too; it’s easy to see how Natalie falls for him, even as we wrinkle our noses in disgust.
The plotting is excellent – a slow, but inevitable slide from a character drama to a thriller. Some readers will pick elements of the denouement, but it’s unlikely you’ll anticipate them all. Harding makes this as credible and interesting as the earlier examination of Natalie’s slide from student to sugar baby to drunken loon.
I really enjoyed this novel: it’s perceptive and engrossing and makes Natalie’s situation surprisingly relatable. On top of that, the thriller elements are both tense and believable. This novel will appeal to people who are looking for a novel which offers depth of character, and a thriller element that doesn’t dominate the story.
10 of our Beauty and Lace Club members are reading The Arrangement by Robyn Harding. You can see their feedback in the comments section below, and we invite you to contribute to the discussion.