"We made a pledge – you accepted my dare," says the lovely Amanda, who proves to be the most enchanting girl wealthy Anthony Anscombe has ever set eyes on. It is 1965, and the maddeningly principled Anthony inevitably becomes obsessed with this beautiful young girl whom he meets at a party held at his Winchford Priory in the bucolic town of Winchford in southern Oxfordshire.
Anthony's existence to date has been rather bleak and mediocre with the banality of his parents, his friends, and even Winchford itself. In Amanda, however, there lies color, sexuality and exoticism
- and also the possibility of escape; "with her delicate cheekbones, luminous white skin, and kohl-black eyes," instinct tells him that all future happiness depends on being with her.
Pursuing Amanda all the way to the South of France, Anthony willfully asks for her hand in marriage almost at once, stealing her away from rodent-faced Charlie Edwards, who also courts her. The facile Amanda, however, isn't exactly cut out for country life with its churches, flowers and village fetes, especially when she finds herself ensconced in the Winchford Priory with only her little baby, Jasmine, to care for.
To make matters worse, Amanda has to put up with the constant badgering and hectoring of Anthony's snobbish mother, the imperious Henrietta Anscombe, who feels as though her beloved son has married below his stature.
When Amanda eventually takes flight, leaving little Jasmine behind, the event kickstarts Anthony's encounters with a series of women who come to form the core of his life over the next forty years.
There's Jasmine's nanny, Sandra, whom his best friend Lex encourages him to go after because she has a "good body and great tits." A strong, normal, relatively well-adjusted and beautiful woman, the sweet, dependable Sandra at first seems to be perfect the antidote to everything Amanda represents. But for Anthony, what looks like a charmed life soon feels like being trapped.
It isn't until he meets Nulu, an exotic London acupuncturist who charms Anthony with her Qi channels and tells him that she has never encountered a man with such a capacity for passion or such deep sadness, that Anthony begins to questions his second marriage.
Nothing, however, prepares Anthony for the arrival of his third wife, the imperious Dita, who marches through his life like a powerhouse, accepting no compromises and expecting him to support all of her children, especially the no-good Morad, who threatens to undermine Anthony's reputation.
Single-minded Dita takes it upon herself to steadily remake Winchford, filling it with guests for carefully stratified shooting weekends and cultural dinners.
While Anthony is the first to comprehend that it is largely because of her that he becomes a success in the eyes of the world, he also realizes that Dita hasn't necessarily been looking after him at all but merely looking up to her own high standards.
Feeling besieged by his marital woes, kind-hearted Anthony ends up at the epicenter of what appears to be an enormous and adhesive spider's web upon which legions of ex-lovers, ex-wives, children, and extended families are stuck forever, all looking to him to feed, house and educate them on the picaresque two thousand acres of the Winchford Estate.
While Anthony gets himself into all sorts of problems as he tries to support his new and extended family, A Much Married Man continues to dance joyously along, detailing the foibles and penchants of the upperclass with nimble-fingered precision.
Author Nicholas Coleridge intends to bring out the best, the worst, and the funniest attributes of the people he so obviously loves.
Although the plot of the novel at times stretches credibility (the story concludes with a Live Aid concert that doesn't quite work), the narrative is always delightful and charming. Sometimes comic, at others darkly ironic, Coleridge is obviously having fun at exposing his characters' eccentric ways
- especially Anthony, who tends to take the "English way out" and say nothing, always maintaining his tight-lipped civility, especially when confronted with his cadre of demanding wives and mistresses.