“No matter how uncomfortable her commute, how tight her budget, or how lonely she sometimes felt in the giant, anonymous city, Nat never regretted her cross-country move. Living in New York wasn’t supposed to be easy. It was hard, but it was worth it. Especially for an artist, like Natalie. She fed off the creativity running rampant through these hallowed streets, drawing inspiration from the artists who came before her. The city nourished her soul, stimulated her mind, filled her entire body with a humming, vibrating, energy. New York meant possibility.”
The Arrangement by Robyn Harding is a fascinating and intricately woven story of obsession, passion, secrets, and murder. I was hooked right from the get-go and was pulled into the story, losing all sense of time and place as I followed along on this intriguing read. The characters were all really well developed and interesting, with some being more likeable than others, but I think this was always the authors intent. The story has obviously had a lot of time, planning, energy, attention to detail, and research put into it- and it shows in the polished end result. Natalie is a struggling art student- a small town girl trying to make her way in the big city of New York. She’s barely making ends meet and is behind on everything. She’s just been fired from her part-time job and is afraid she will get evicted soon- not to mention her studies are suffering from all the stress she’s under. It’s all becoming too much. So, when a friend tells her about the “Sugar Bowl” Nat can’t help but give it some thought. She’s not sure she’s really cut out to be a “Sugar Baby”, but if she could just earn enough money to get her out of immediate trouble, she really shouldn’t reject the opportunity. And so it begins. Meeting her first Sugar Daddy is an eye opening experience, and she’s soon caught up in a game of obsession, chemistry, secrets, danger, and revenge. Things get really complicated, and desperate measures are taken by both parties. Our characters unravel, declining into some madness- with revenge being the order of the day! But when that results in murder, the story really gets interesting- trying to figure out who did what. The story has a few surprising twists that I certainly didn’t see coming- and I was kept guessing for much of the time. The ending was definitely unexpected. My only (minor) issue is that the story was a little slow to get going- but it wasn’t too long before things really took off. An engrossing tale!
I love books that transport me into a completely different scene, and Harding’s foray into the world of sugar daddies and sugar babies was a real revelation for me. If you are like me, and haven’t heard of the term before: a sugar baby is a beautiful young woman, often a student, who will date a wealthy older man for a fee. It’s a bit like an escort service, only that the sugar daddy will often pay large sums of money and gifts to his sugar baby for her company. Sex is often involved, but not always. It’s needless to say that this arrangement attracts a fair share of creeps and predators, and that things can go wrong on many different levels. Google the term and you will find a spade of murders related to the whole sugar baby scene.
So when Natalie, a poor art student who has just lost her low paying job in hospitality and can no longer afford her rent in her flat share in New York, enters a sugar daddy / sugar baby arrangement with the confident and rich Gabe, I instantly feared for her. Natalie is a bit of an innocent, a girl from the country who has grown up without a father in her life, and who craves love and stability – probably not the type of girl who is suited to such an arrangement. “Pretty Woman” it is not – for Gabe to pay a princely sum for Natalie’s company, she is expected to perform certain “services” and live up to Gabe’s expectations. Most of all, she is as much a status symbol as a new car, or an expensive suit, and just as expendable when he tires of her. This is never going to end well, is it?
I will not reveal any more about the story, other than to say that it instantly had me intrigued. Harding writes well, and the story moves along at a good pace, setting the scene and building up a degree of danger as we realise what Natalie’s arrangement entails. This was the type of book that made me feel like a tourist on planet earth, because Natalie’s reality was so far removed from my own sheltered life that I often found myself gobsmacked by the things she is experiencing. I could relate to the poor student existence – hadn’t I myself lived on minute noodles in grungy shared apartments in my youth? - but the whole sugar daddy scene was totally new to me. From here, Harding spins a compelling tale that soon ends in someone’s death – the who and how you will have to find out for yourself.
Harding has obviously done her research and states in her author’s notes that she had interviewed several sugar babies prior to writing this novel to be able to give her story a solid background. This really shone through for me in believable characters that were easy to relate to. If I wanted to spark a lively debate, I would read this in a book group, as the mere term sugar baby / sugar daddy would have some of my peers’ blood boiling!
All in all, this was an intriguing, original and compelling mystery that had me glued to the pages. I would have been just as happy to leave the ending shrouded in a bit of mystery, but other readers not similarly inclined will be happy to hear that it all wrapped up nicely and all is explained in the final reveal. I now need to read the author’s other books, in particularly HER PRETTY FACE, which has been on my wish list for a long time!
A tale of obsession, deceit and betrayal, The Arrangement looks at the world of sugar daddies and sugar babies. It's a subject that most people are aware of, yet don't know or care to know the full details of. We have Natalie, a struggling art student in New York, getting by on bar jobs and copious amounts of alcohol, until one day a friend introduces her to the lucrative world of sugar babies.
Soon Natalie meets Gabe, a handsome, and older, financial lawyer, and they soon come to an arrangement, as long as Natalie realises his daughter and his work will always come before her. Natalie is sucked in to a seductive world of theater trips, high class restaurants and weekends in the country. Then suddenly Gabe puts his family first and ends the arrangement, leaving Natalie devastated and heart broken...and determined to get Gabe back. And she will stop at nothing...
An eye-opening book, The Arrangement is a look into the life of a working class girl who is swept up in a life of glamour, then finds it crashing down on her. The plot sucks you in, as seductive as the world itself, and you'll find yourself unable to put this one down. The short chapters give thoughts to 'just one more' and you find yourself reading long into the night. Though the end did show some serious plot holes, it was still satisfying enough. I recommend this book to all who want to have a look into this glamourous lifestyle, albeit one that will always be judged harshly.
3.5 stars rounded up to 4.
My thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for an uncorrected proof in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are entirely my own.
Natalie is a struggling art student in New York City. Her mother has remarried and she isn't as close to her recently and she is estranged from her father. When Natalie sees her classmate, Ava, is not struggling, she begins to chat and finds out that Ava is a sugar baby. She dates men who give her a monthly allowance, which in turn, allows her to have the lifestyle she wants.
Natalie is initially reluctant, but as her circumstances change she decides to also try the lifestyle Ava has. Cue Gabe. The handsome, older finance attorney. But as she continues to see Gabe, her feelings develop and it's no longer a 'no strings attached' relationship that they were both initially seeking.
From the start we are told that there is a murder but the details are sketchy until right to the end. Harding keeps us in suspense the whole way, leading us to wonder what on earth happened and how Nat may be implicated in the murder.
This was such a thrilling and suspenseful read and I enjoyed the unique subject matter and who done it aspect. Harding's writing was again, flawless and I enjoyed this one so much. 4.5*
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for this gifted copy for review.
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