I’ve long been a fan of Sue Miller’s intelligent, perceptive fiction and was delighted to see a new title from her in the publishing schedules. It seems ages since I reviewed The Arsonist, her last novel. Like all her books, Monogamy inhabits that territory sometimes dubbed ‘women’s fiction’ which seems a shame to me as if men have no interest in family and relationships. It explores a long marriage between two very different people: the expansive, convivial Graham and Annie, self-contained and sometimes a little remote.
For both Annie and Graham this is their second marriage. They met at Graham’s bookshop opening party, setting the tone for the life of bookish sociability which has gained them a reputation with friends, customers and authors alike. Annie had been enjoying her sexual freedom after the break-up of her marriage to her self-centred first husband while Graham’s wife, Frieda, had walked out on their open marriage taking their son, Lucas, with her but remaining friends. These three form an extended family for Lucas and Sarah, Annie and Graham’s daughter. On the eve of an author event, for which one of their renowned dinners is planned, with just a few days to go before Annie’s new photographic exhibition, her career apparently back on track, Graham seems preoccupied. Then something happens that will irrevocably interrupt the intimate call and response of this settled, happy marriage.
As ever, Miller handles her narrative deftly, smoothly shifting perspectives between characters, illuminating both their past and present in this nuanced, achingly tender portrait of a mature marriage between two very different people. Each character is developed with Miller’s customary empathetic acuity so that we come to care for them deeply. It’s hard to write about this novel without revealing the event which triggers the reassessment of Annie and Graham’s union which I’d rather not do. Suffice to say that it turned Miller’s book into a different and more interesting novel from the one I’d been expecting. Miller’s fiction reminds me a little of Anna Quindlen’s, another accomplished writer whose books seem to slip under the radar here in the UK. A shame. If you’re in the market for a new author of quietly thoughtful, intelligent fiction, I hope I’ve convinced you to give Miller a try. She has a pleasingly lengthy backlist should you become a convert.
Bloomsbury: London 2020 9781526618900 352 pages