I picked up this book immediately after finishing War and Peace. I picked it up without much thought but I do have to wonder if subconsciously I was craving short stories. After 4000 pages of the same people, places and events being introduced to and done with a character all in 20 pages was a welcome relief. And whereas in War and Peace I found myself skim reading to get it over with as soon as possible, in Married Love I wanted to savour every word because it was the writing that had all the beauty. Almost like poetry.
The stories in general perhaps had more in common with poetry than a traditional novel. Many of them didn’t really have a notable plot; nothing much changed from beginning to end. Instead of being full-fledged narratives they were more like snippets of stories, brief glimpses into a life, like you’re peering in through a person’s window as you walk down the road.
And because there wasn’t a plot I didn’t get hung up wanting to find out what would happen next. Usually I see long-winded descriptions, character sketches and scene setting as a waste of time, an obstacle to get through to get to the really good stuff: the story. But with no story to worry about I could fully immerse myself in the subtle, delicate writing style.
It’s that lack of a narrative, that uneventfulness, which ties together all the stories. The characters’ imaginations take them on a course that their life never actually does – Shelley expects the worst news about her son, Alec expects the worst news about his sister, Ally takes an unnecessary risk, Kirsten acts without thinking – and they all come out the other side unscathed.
But although the worst never does happy, it doesn’t prevent an overwhelming sense of misery in all the stories. From the slow, introspective writing style and the dreary normality of the lives being portrayed. The dramatic life-defining crescendo might seem the more emotional of the two options but Tessa Hadley articulates so well the quiet melancholy of everyday life that it becomes far more relatable and therefore far more affecting.