Tash and Niall have been living together for six months when they decide to invite Tash's batty family round for Christmas lunch. In the confusion of pets and presents, Tash's grandmother spots a plastic ring from a cracker on her granddaughter's finger and mistakenly announces that Tash and Niall are engaged. As her family make arrangements for the wedding of the year around her, Tash realises that, far from being happy about getting married to Niall, she is dreading the big day - and thinks she might instead be in love with the arrogant Hugo Beauchamp...
Well Groomed picks up the tale of Tash and Hugo begun in French Relations. I absolutely love French Relations, and was desperately keen to read more about the ever-flustered Tash. I think she is an adorable heroine, and I was rooting for her to end up with the right man.
Saying that, however, Well Groomed is, in a number of ways, a lesser book than French Relations. There are more incidents where you want to shake the heroine and insist she pulls her act together. There are times where you wonder why she would even want Hugo, when he acts in such an appalling manner towards her. The whole subplot involving Lisette and her threats towards Niall is tiresome and interrupts the flow of the novel.
Yet in other ways Well Groomed is the superior novel - there is more emotional depth, especially involving the death of one particular event horse, and the climax to the novel is better and less wishy washy.
Fiona Walker's prose is as smooth and delicious as always - I gulped this novel down in long, lazy reading sessions and enjoyed the clever wordplay, the gentle punnery and the sometimes poetic descriptions. She genuinely is one of the most talented female writers out there in terms of these large, sprawling, sexy novels.
In this case she was let down a little by a plot that ended up in dead-ends, or introduced new characters for little purpose. Both Niall and Tash acted in a manner that seemed contrary to the way they'd been written in French Relations. It was frustrating to feel that Well Groomed could have been stunning - as it was, I found it entertaining and compulsive, but not at all plausible.
Once again, by far the best part of the novel is Walker's treatment of the animals and their characterisations. Here we have the shivering, neurotic dalmation Enid; the boisterous and puppy-like Beetroot; the ever-wonderful and bolshy chestnut stallion Snob. And then new horses: nervy Surfer; couragous Bod, gentlemanly Hunk and clumsy Mickey. I adored them all by the end of the novel - almost more so than most of the human characters! It is enormously clear that Walker has a real love and appreciation for horses, and she writes them brilliantly.
If you read French Relations, you will want to read Well Groomed to catch up with the wonderful cast of characters introduced in the first novel. You will also find yourself reading stupidly late into the evening, and idly picking up the novel in every spare minute, the prose is that compelling. But you might find yourself just a little disappointed based on the strength of French Relations.