Serial Monogamy / Kate Taylor
Toronto: Doubleday, c2016.
I unexpectedly loved this book. The cover is so beautifully simple, and the story is so beautifully complex.
Sharon discovers her husband Al is having an affair with a student. After a lot of upheaval, they decide to split. But then Sharon is diagnosed with breast cancer, and Al returns to care for her and their two young daughters.
Meanwhile, Sharon is also writing a serial for a local newspaper to mark a Dickens anniversary. The editor, a big Dickens fan, wants something to commemorate this date. But what he gets is a story of Dickens' relationship with Nelly Tiernan, his long-term mistress, a theme on Sharon's mind for obvious reasons.
This is a complex book, with intertwining narratives moving from the present to Sharon and Al's past (and one particularly lovely piece about Al's childhood). And then moving to Dickens' life, with its resonances with the modern narrative.
Questions of marriage and fidelity, the secrets that are held by and between couples, and love in a wider sense, are all explored in both storylines. I thought it worked well, with the style reflecting Sharon's preoccupations and the way her mind is flitting between past, present, and a possible future or lack of one. The writing also carries a Victorian flavour, not in an ornate prose style or stuffiness, but in a sense that reminds me of Byatt's Possession with its openness about passion and clandestine relationships, and its flitting between past and present with a very literary focus.
I found it a sad, or perhaps solemn, book, but with moments of hope and beauty, and honesty. I came to understand many of the motivations of the characters even if I didn't quite agree with all their choices. This is a thought-provoking book about subtle things, and one which I found very suited to my reading tastes.