Context: Finished this off in a day while me and the Mrs stayed for what could potentially be the last time with the mum-in-law at the lodge on the Norfolk coast.
Sometimes a book comes along that seems to contain so much from your own life you wonder whether the writer has been secretly asking your friends to tell him all about you. The funny thing about this one though is that most of what he wrote has been too hard to tell anyone and so he couldn’t have wheedled it out of them. He must have been following me around…
Man and Wife is the first thing I’ve read by Parsons. He reads very much like Nick Hornby actually – the kind of London-based (i.e. trendy), emotional carnage that, if it weren’t a novel, would be your nearest wine bar’s most juicy gossip. But like Hornby, Parson’s books work because they connect with the damage that all of us drag behind us through life both from relationships we don’t choose (our parents) through to those we do (our partners).
My parents were divorced when I was nine. This catastrophe started much earlier in my life. In fact, when I was 7, the age of Pat, our protagonist’s son, my nightmare was just beginning. It was a particularly violent divorce full of alcohol and broken glass. I will never get over it. And so I found a novel which dealt with this issue a riveting read, particularly as it came from one perspective I still have had no insight into, the father’s.
My dad remarried and my stepmother and he adopted my younger brother and a couple of years later shipped me off to boarding school. If I was any good at writing, I’d have written my own novel by now but, truth be told, it wouldn’t come out half as funny as Parson’s effort here. In fact, it would as bitter and twisted as I still feel about it all. Anyway…. what comes across so well in this book is the emotional roller-coaster relationships can be for us all; the uncertainty of trying to define and demonstrate love; the struggle we find to place people in the right boxes society provides for us.
It also helped that I too have had questions of what love really is raised in my social circles recently.
So, I found this a riveting read from start to finish. I think it’s a good novel for husbands and wives to read to perhaps discuss different perspectives of love and marriage and if any of you are contemplating divorce, it would be a good one to make you think again. I can assure you that no matter how civil your divorce is, if you have children, you will be wounding them emotionally forever. While this isn’t fully explored in Man and Wife, Parsons does explore the agony that parents go through in the aftermath and it’s not comforting reading.
The novel careers down all sorts of relational pathways and I really wasn’t sure how it was going to end. I kept waiting for a head-on collision. All I’ll say for now is that I’m relieved to say it ended better than I thought it was going to.