"What do you do?" the young career woman asks Hannie Bennet, whom she has just met.

"Marry," Hannie answers.

When she visits England from her home in South Africa, Hannie is candid about being 52 and in search of a new husband a final husband. Attractive, as well as intriguingly frank, Hannie manages to find one, even though she becomes encumbered by a 14-year-old-son and a dubious past.

In her fine first novel, A Winter Marriage, the award-winning Irish poet Kerry Hardie tells the story of Hannie and her new husband, Ned. Hardie, who reported from Northern Ireland for the BBC before becoming a fiction writer, has created an oddly gripping novel of sociological and psychological depth. It offers insight into the fading Anglo-Irish community, at the same time showing what can happen when two people find currents within themselves that run so deep they cannot be altered by will alone. Ned Renvyle, older than Hannie by 17 years, has retired to a farm near relatives after spending a lifetime wandering the world, writing travel books. By marrying, Ned hopes to turn his lonely Irish farm into a home. Coming from a society marriage, Hannie has the skills, if she chooses to use them.

Readers will want to see what happens daily with this oddly matched couple. How much dullness will Hannie be able to stand? How long can Ned allow Hannie to turn away from his friends and family? After meticulous scene-setting, Hardie brings matters to a close with bold plot thrusts even deaths. Hannie's secrets come out in the end, leaving us to revalue her. Anne Morris writes from Austin, Texas.

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