Variations on Eat, Pray, Love have been spawned by the global success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, assisted in no small part by the film adaptation starring Julia Roberts. I wondered if Love Lose Live was also going to be about a woman’s search for meaning, but it was a very different read. Gritty, amusing, poignant and contradictory, I still found the tagline ‘Divorce is a rollercoaster’ surprising, given I largely associate rollercoasters with trepidation, excitement and eager anticipation... I shared the book with a male colleague with some trepidation, as it is more sympathetic to the wife than the husband at its outset. He agreed, but noted that there is usually one party who holds greater responsibility in how a relationship breaks down.
This is a novel about divorce! It has an interesting foreword by Lord Wilson, who was a judge of the Family Division for 12 years before becoming a Justice of the UK Supreme Court. He describes it as a ‘wonderful advertisement for family mediation, with which, in writing the foreword, I particularly wish to associate myself’. He captures the emotion and humour in the book well: ‘[It] exposes much more than the downward spiral of a failed relationship. There is, for example, a very sensitive portrayal of the feelings of the children. There is also an acute analysis of the development of the wife’s affair; the wait for its ultimate consummation is – well, almost – as frustrating for the reader as it is for the boyfriend.’
The story of the Bailey family and what happens to its members is keenly observed and realistically portrayed. By switching perspectives – between husband, wife, children, prospective new partners and their families – no one person is seen as being entirely to blame for what ensues, albeit a timely reminder for a little more care in navigating coupledom and its separation, especially where children are involved. There is a rather wonderful dénouement when the children are forced to eat liver by a new partner during a contact period, which readers should discover themselves. It chastens both parents and makes them more susceptible to mediation than they had been previously. Money, glamour and the mundane practicalities of life are all juxtaposed; the book vividly depicts what can happen when as one door closes and others open.
There are moments of sadness and quiet tragedy. A partner who did not want a separation has to come to terms with it, and the physical and psychological strain that this puts them under cannot be hidden. Nobody escapes unscathed. The potential battleground that family holidays like Christmas become, and the small perfect moments that still occur in the midst of a maelstrom, mean that sometimes good and bad just need to be weighed up in terms of whether it is better to settle for what works, even if it is imperfect, or to try for something that might be better, with the attendant risks of such an effort and cutting ties with what has gone before.
This is not a textbook, or a self-help guide, but the sort of novel one might take on holiday or read of an evening. You care about the characters and the fast pace of the book moves the action on so that the worst emotions, while covered, are not lingered over. The children are children, being shrewd, manipulative, clingy, loving, sensitive, noisy, exasperating and vulnerable in turn. There are glamorous new partners, who bring with them their own business worlds, sometimes of considerable wealth, and the reality that everyone has their own agenda, be this lust, security, being able to be oneself, or simply a pursuit of happiness. There are also plenty of opportunities for laugh out loud humour. You can see a film being made of this book.
There is an important reminder of the choice that each family makes to create its own mores, so that behaviour usual for one family group becomes completely unacceptable for others who have grown up with different rules and customs, no matter similarities of race or class. Psychological motivators are helpfully explained, indicating how dissatisfaction can grow once communication becomes strained. An untidy house is a perfect example of different values and what people regard as important, as is the indication of different styles reflecting different personalities as well as preferences. One partner accepts that a house needs to be regularly tidied, the other cannot understand why it ever becomes a mess (and takes it as a personal slight that it is not tidied at all times to their satisfaction). The reader wants everyone to be happy but knows it will not happen easily, if such a simple matter sparks so much angst repeatedly.
The book is written by Mary Banham-Hall, a solicitor and mediator who spends much of her time running her company Focus Mediation. Her book clearly conveys that family mediation is a resource that could save families extensive financial and emotional costs and should be considered. The book does not touch on the erosion of family litigation funds, as she deliberately took the decision to remove that aspect from this story; the better to focus on the psychologies and viewpoints of all participants. Still, her characters recognise that they are lucky in this regard, acknowledging that finance would have added a further layer of complexity to an already fraught period in their lives.
With Office of National Statistics revealing that 42% of marriages end in divorce and by the end of 10 years more than 40% of co-habiting couples will separate, the book is contemporary in recognising a not uncommon phenomenon. Ultimately, this is a life-affirming book that I enjoyed reading. It offers a picture of life after trauma that is filled with hope. If I was in the midst of, or contemplating divorce, it might well make me feel trepidation, excitement and anticipation in equal measure. Perhaps the tagline is rather apt after all. ●
Reviewer: Melissa Coutinho, Counsel Editorial Board