Marriages are Made in Bond Street: Sanitized History and Failure to Market

One of my favorite things about London is culture of recycled books. Every street has a bookstore with a half price or £1 bin for curious readers. I simply cannot pass one by without looking through and choosing the next book to clutter my “trophy shelf.” A few weeks ago, I walked past Slightly Foxed (now closed down) on Gloucester Road and found Marriages are Made in Bond Street by Penrose Halson.

The back of the novel said for readers of Call the Midwife it was a perfect read. Sold! I paid my £1 and took it home to devour. Much to my surprise, I discovered this book is not yet published! I couldn’t believe my coup! I found a soon-to-be-published novel for a steal, and I got to read it before anyone else.

The back cover, in very plain and obvious marketing terms, says, “A television series based on the book is currently in development. Perfect for fans of Call the Midwife, The Sugar Girls, and Custard Tarts & Broken Hearts. Widespread review and feature coverage guaranteed. Promotable author, perfect for events and PR.”

I thought this was a great PR tool and example of what I also love: marketing.

But what I find fascinating is there is no online material for this book. The book is less than 2 months from release, and I haven’t found a lot of information about it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or even after a Google search. I can’t even find much on the author, Penrose Halson. No Google hits on the name related to the book, and only two tweets with her name connected to the Chip Lit Festival in Oxfordshire this April pull up.

As a producer, I find this troubling. Where is the PR for this book to be released at the end of March? Is book publishing really that different from film marketing? In the film world, marketing campaigns go out months and months in advance. So, why is it so different for books? It can’t be a saturation of the market. Yes, books are published every single day and in volumes, but films are also released and fighting for the ever-shortening public eye. I would love nothing more than to peek inside the marketing vehicle for book releases.

* * * * *

The story of Marriages are Made in Bond Street follows two women, Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver, as they set up a “marriage bureau” just before WWII broke out. These two business savvy women were way ahead of their time as they set up a city-wide, in-person, Match.com coupling all classes of people (who could afford the service) with their true loves, or at least attempted to find them.

As the story unfolds, we see these women get more and more successful, much to their surprise. They did not expect to be an overnight success, but these women knew how to market and publicize. They took out ads in the paper, had film shot of their offices (see above), and relied heavily on word of mouth. It certainly didn’t hurt to have prime real estate in central London among the high fashion stores and bustling businesses.

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I find this a bit ironic. A book about how women successfully marketed their business is not being marketed in the social media realm.

The bureau began in 1939, at the brink of World War II. While Heather and Mary wrestled with the idea of moving the offices outside of London, even going so far as doing so, they new their home and business was in London. They stayed in 124 New Bond Street for the war and miraculously, their lives were spared.

Along the way, Mary moved to America with a beau of her own. She sold her shares of the office to Heather who hired on a few new girls and eventually started to “tele-commute” from Scotland. What’s the successful business notion? Work on your business, not in your business. But Heather still lead the ship with her mind swirling over the thousands of applicants that applied each day hoping to find their loves in the ramshackle city that London had become during the war.

Not all of the stories are success stories, and some are quite devastating. But the author, Penrose Halson, never goes deep enough to give us a full-account of London life in the 1940s. She manages to stay sanitary and rosy despite the constant bombings, suicides, and poverty that ravaged the city.

The book also remains one-sided. As a reader, I don’t know if this is due to lack of research, lack of material, or the notion of keeping the story simple, but I found myself hoping to see more, much like Jennifer Worth in her Call the Midwife series.

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The front of the Marriage Bureau today.

When Mary moves to America, she is never heard from again. Why? Where did she go? Did she die? Did she disappear? This is something I would expect to have explained somewhere in the book, even in an epilogue. Mary’s life is certainly not irrelevant to the Marriage Bureau and should be included. But instead, she is forgotten with the flick of a sentence.

To protect the identities of the applicants, Ms. Halson gave false surnames with things like Ms. Sad or Mr. Hedgehog. While I understand the need to protect privacy, this did make the reading confusing and difficult. I couldn’t remember time to time who these people were and would have fared better with false surnames. But I will say the way Ms. Halson brought everyone together was genius. She describes a party held for her matches, and when describing the clients, she used keywords and clues that had me instantly remembering who each was.

* * * * *

While I am thrilled I got to read a book before it came out in print, I’m a little disappointed with the final delivery. The story is fascinating, but this only scratches the surface of what it could and should have been. That time is so rich in history, it’s a shame that rose-colored glasses veil the true obstacles these women faced trying to find love in the rubble of a war-ravaged city.

Marriages are Made in Bond Street will be released on March 24, 2016. Give it a read and let me know your thoughts, or please give me a recommendation for something new to read!

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