If you could devise a recipe to make the perfect love partnership what would be its ingredients?
In chatting to my girlfriends, we all have different answers as to what this mythical state might consist of.
One said: bags of money. Another said: better and more sex, preferably with him (failing which, with somebody dishy). One even said: sell the kids. I wondered about our old life, when we both worked, made great money and globe trotted. Little did we know how simple life was back then. But were we perfect?
And so I came to read A Better Man by Leah McLaren whilst six months pregnant with my second child. Cue feeling slightly annoyed with the author. We first meet Maya, a stay at home mum to twins who is still breast feeding both at age three and rather than me high-fiving her parenting achievements, I decided I hate her. She’s a certified heath freak, ex-lawyer, gym bunny, therapy seeking, nanny reliant awful woman. Designed as a poor little rich girl villain: she reminded me of that Paltrow woman. On paper she appears to have the perfect life, yet she is far from happy or fulfilled. Boo-hoo was my reaction.
Next we meet Nick, Maya’s mid-life crisis ridden husband. He is a rich film producer who has grown to hate the monotony of family life with Maya and the children so much that he works all hours and eyes up other women with a view to being unfaithful, without actually having the balls to go through with it. To be honest, if I were married to Maya, I would probably feel the same.
Finally he cracks. He has to break free from his situation (aka adult family responsibility). He needs excitement, passion, a companion again. None of which Maya can provide in her current “state.” Don’t we all Nick, don’t we all.
Enter stage left the knight in shining armour – Mr Adam Gray – divorce lawyer extraordinaire and mutual friend of Maya and Nick. The very man responsible for introducing these hot young things to eachother back in the day no less. Nick consults Gray off the record on divorcing Maya. He soon discovers that her stay at home mother of two status would bankrupt him in terms of a settlement, such is her level of reliance on him financially. Nick feels like he is suffocating.
Gray, who goes on to be stuck in the middle of the pair (and who may or may not have an ulterior motive), suggests that in order to have the life he wants, Nick will have to bite the bullet and become “A Better Man.” But only temporarily.
This would involve actually spending quality time with the kids and kindly encouraging Maya to return to work in order that her self esteem and worth can return (as if by magic) and all in a guilt free fashion. Because being a stay at home mum is not a valid or worthwhile career path…obviously!!
Once Maya is financially viable again, the way would then be paved for Nick to divorce Maya on terms much more favourable to himself. That was the plan anyway.
How delightful of Nick, eh. This novel follows the couple from both perspectives of their failing marriage and – without including any spoilers here – things don’t quite pan out the way Nick had intended.
This was an enjoyable read once I got into my stride with it. I initially found Maya hard to buy into as a character. I couldn’t quite get my head around someone feeling so anxious and guilty about leaving the children to be bottle fed or to work; yet, able to indulge herself with a personal trainer and therapist daily with the luxury of a nanny at home. It just didn’t ring true. As the novel unfolded, however, and the readers sympathies with the characters were guided through by the author with ebbs and flows, McLaren deserves credit for evoking a strong response in me around the way she developed her character’s traits onwards and outwards from my first impressions.
On the downside, having a sense of place is really important to me when I’m reading a novel and I found this irritatingly unspecific. At times, I thought we were in London given the descriptions of the architecture but it wasn’t until the final pages that Ontario was mentioned. I may have missed a reference early on or something but this omission was a shame and bugged me throughout. Perhaps not everyone would pick up on this though.
That said, by the end of the book, I really cared about the fate and future of the characters. I feel that this is a book that can be read and enjoyed on a frivolous chick-lit level as well as a more satirical, thought provoking philosophical level about who the “perfect man” or “perfect woman” might be (if he/she actually exists) and what it takes to really make a go of a marriage or partnership in these cynical times.
If you ask me, both Maya and Nick are clearly suffering from undiagnosed post-natal depression following the birth of their twins. But hey, I’m no doctor.
Well worth a read if you want your thoughts provoked on modern life.
Thanks to Britmums and Atlantic Books for sending me this book to read. I was under no obligation to write a review and views expressed are mine and mine alone.