The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond
Dates Read: 02/05/2021-09/05/2021
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a strange book – but I liked it! The idea that there’s a – let’s make no bones about it – cult out there, whose role is ostensibly to promote and facilitate lasting marriages, is at once hilarious and chilling. The Pact is everywhere; all seeing, all knowing, all powerful once you’ve signed your name on the dotted line. And the implication is that the powerful and rich are all members, you will need to join them to be truly successful.
First big question – Alice is a lawyer. What lawyer would sign a contract without really understanding the implications of what she’s signing? Due diligence? Nah, let’s just sign away. I guess that really is the point at which you just need to suspend your disbelief, come along for the ride, and enjoy it for what it is. Swanky parties at massive posh houses and seemingly perfect relationships but everything’s engineered and nothing, and no one, is what it seems. There is simply no privacy and the strict rules of the Pact mean that there’s none of the standard muddling through and finding a way in the first few months and years of a marriage.
By mid-way through the book, Alice and Jake are reduced to finding ever more desperate ways to avoid breaking the rules and even to communicate and spend time alone, and nothing is nice or fun any more because it’s all prescribed. The consequences of even the smallest misdemeanour become more and more brutal and demeaning and there seems to be no way out.
I won’t spoil the denouement but I will say that I really enjoyed it. No one truly knows how another couple’s marriage works. With a good few years of the institution behind me, I can say that it can be messy, it’s not always easy and it’s constantly changing and evolving, but that’s what makes it the marriage it is. The experiences of the couple involved and the decisions they make both together and individually are what makes a marriage work or not. I can also say that I’m no lawyer but I’d definitely not have signed on the dotted line, no matter how shiny the lifestyle appeared!
Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner
Dates Read: 25/04/2021-02/05/2021
My Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Hmm. I’m not really sure how this one ended up in my library. Probably the result of a super discounted sale purchase or something, as police procedurals aren’t especially, as my regular readers will know, one of my favourite genres. Still, I had high hopes as the star rating (I don’t look at others’ reviews before I read a book) was pretty good and so went into it with an open mind.
It was slow to get started and if I’m honest I almost gave up. It’s interesting as it’s now around a week since I finished it but there really isn’t much of this novel which has stayed with me so I feel like I’m scrabbling around a bit. Maybe that’s my problem with it – it just wasn’t memorable. Manon, the main character, isn’t especially pleasant – she’s self-centred and doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on with her family, making decisions that will affect them all without reference to those she’s supposed to care about.
The plot is convoluted. Far too many coincidences which jarred somewhat and made me question the narrative. And as a police officer who is directly related to a murder suspect, I found it incredible that Manon behaves in such an unprofessional manner, risking not only her own but the careers of her colleagues. I’d have told her to get on her bike! By the end, I really didn’t care what happened to the majority of characters, with the exclusion of Manon’s son, Fly, who she really needs to take better care of since he has already been the victim of multiple terrible circumstances, and her police officer colleague, Dave, who seems pretty much the only truly decent one. Ted Hastings would be incensed!
The Party by Elizabeth Day
Dates Read: 20/04/2021-25/04/2021
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Despite pretty much every character being grossly unlikeable, I really rather enjoyed The Party. It feels like a polemic on the British class system and therefore super relevant in 2021. Ms Day chose a great title – the Party has multiple meanings within the context of the story. Is it a social event, shared political beliefs, an individual or a group of people? Or something else I haven’t thought of?
At times I felt like I was reading a hybrid of Brideshead Revisited and the Talented Mr Ripley. The main character, Martin, is narcissistic, obsessive and self-absorbed, unable to stand on his own merits and living in the shadow of his rich, landed friend, desperately aspiring to become something he never can. Slowly the author reveals the root of the connection and cleverly unravels it in some of the most uncomfortable (but hugely enjoyable) text I’ve read for a long time.
There really is only one character to like in here, Martin’s wife, Lucy. At first she comes across as nondescript, dull even, but we ultimately learn she’s the one who’s grounded and eminently sensible, despite having fallen, for a while at least, under Martin’s spell. Martin, Ben, Serena, everyone else – horrible, just horrible. Vacuous and self-serving, these aren’t people you want in your life.
I really enjoyed the structure of the novel, current events interspersed with backstory from Martin’s point of view, and Lucy’s diary extracts. It’s certainly not linear but this helps make it an absorbing read, although that may not suit everyone.
It underlines what we already know. The rich are a club – the only way to join them is to be born into them, they have all the wealth and all the power, are ruthless at getting what they want and if you’re not one of them you’re expendable.