As you no-doubt know by now I’m part of the Curtis Brown Book Club, where a small group of Twitter inhabitants (Tweeps? Tweople?) are sent a book each month to read and review. This book, A Better Man, was our September read.
It is the story of Nick Wakefield and his wife Maya. He co-owns a commercial film production company, she was a high-flying divorce lawyer, but now they have the twins she is a stay-at-home mother. They have the best of everything: a beautiful home, properties, boats, art, antiques, cars. They lead an ethical, fair trade, high-fibre, low-fat, high-status life. He is also bored and wants a divorce.
When Nick visits his old friend Gray, a high-ranking divorce lawyer, he is told that as a full-time mother Maya is entitled to everything. He must turn himself into the perfect husband if he wants to escape the marriage with more than his dignity.
This is a story about a couple moving towards an uncertain future. Nick slowly comes to realise that he may actually still love his wife. As he tries to be a better man he takes more responsibility for their happiness, meanwhile Maya starts to realise what she has given up in order to be the perfect mother.
But this isn’t just about Nick – we follow Maya through her realisation that there is more to life, that she is drowning in self-help books, therapy and meals alone in front of the tv while her husband is absent. Then she talks to Gray…
The premise for the book is a good one, if slightly clichéd, however this is the first book for the group that I have not been able to engage with. It is told in the third-person omniscient point of view, where we have an external narrative told in the present tense, slipping between Nick and Maya chapter by chapter. We don’t have a narrator as such, it’s very much as though we are looking at a film while someone talks us through what is happening and what the characters are thinking. We do get an insight into the characters’ inner thoughts, but for me this book would have worked better, perhaps, if we were more engaged with them. At times I felt as though, when I was reading, there was a voice-over artist in the corner of the room narrating every movement of the character. As a result I really couldn’t empathise with Nick or Maya.
When the story starts both are pretty unlikeable… he is a workaholic, selfish and I would probably say obnoxious character. He may be miserable but he has acquired all the trappings of a successful man, and has found that money doesn’t buy you happiness. Maya however is someone who balks at allowing her children to touch unrefined sugar, who smothers and neglects at the same time and who, despite having a nanny, is living in a politically correct, no-fun, no-letup life. I have the feeling that the author has done this on purpose, as the more we move through the book, the more these lives start to unravel.
I personally feel that if the book was written from another point of view I may have enjoyed it more, however, I have the feeling that the author has used this point of view deliberately to emphasise the disconnected lives of the main protagonists. It just didn’t work for me. The story is good and I know many people will love it. If it sounds like your kind of story, the book is very modestly priced on Amazon just now, why not read it for yourself?
A Better Man by Leah McLaren is published by Corvus and is available from Amazon and your usual book retailers.