#MyHusbandtheStranger by #RebeccaDone #review
A tragic accident. A terrible injury. And in a moment, the man you fell in love with is transformed into a total stranger. How would you cope? What would you do? Would you be strong enough to stay? But what if you found out that it wasn't an accident at all...?
In sickness and in health? When you say these vows, you hope never to be tested on them - at least not to the extremes that Alex and Molly experience.
I requested this book because I seem to have a morbid fascination with other people's dysfunctional relationships - or maybe I'm fascinated about how people behave, react and cope under pressure. Young, married Alex and Molly find themselves suddenly under huge pressure, emotionally, practically and financially.
Alex has been left brain damaged from a tragic accident. He can no longer work or go out as independently as before. He spends his days lying unwashed on the sofa surfing the internet. He follows instructions literally and is no longer able to complete simple tasks or be responsible for household chores. Molly has had to give up a successful career in London, friendships and a flat in the capital to move to Norfolk and take a job in a local company where she can arrive at 9 and leave at 5 so that she can care for Alex and support them both.
The opening pages are so full of sadness as Molly describes waking up and hoping that today will be the day that she comes downstairs to find the old Alex has returned. That he is cooking pancakes and that they can recapture all those in jokes and romantic rituals that they shared in the early days of their marriage. For Molly, the hardest thing about Alex's condition is that every now and again she sees a flicker of the old Alex- the 'before' Alex, every now and again something happens to remind her of why she loves him and the man he used to be. But this is few and far between and for the most part life is frustrating, demanding and unrelenting.
This is not an easy novel to read and for the first section I was wondering why I was reading something that was so distressing. Molly's pain is so vivid, so palpable, so well conveyed that I was right there with her - trying to get ready for a meeting, knowing she is under pressure at work after having already been served a verbal warning, finding Alex slumped on the sofa and that the milk has gone off because he put it back in the cupboard...... And then when he jostles with her over the half full container and it spills all down her and all over the floor I actually wrung my own hands out and shared in her gasp of horror.
"Stinking fluid is leaching across the concrete floor - the exposed innards of this cottage a constant reminder of our half-finished dream renovation project - snaking under the fridge and ancient kitchen units like something toxic. We might as well have just stuffed rotting mackerel into the wall cavity."
The novel is narrated from Molly's point of view which makes her experiences more intense and her anxieties, worries and predicaments more immediate and more impactful. There is something a little claustrophobic about the novel - not only do the couple live in a small property that is in a rural setting, there is something quite suffocating about their lifestyle. But this is important and deliberate. Done is exploring the reality of living with the man you fell in love with who has now changed beyond recognition. Done is exploring what it is like to live as the carer of your husband; what it is like to try and make ends meet, juggle work and home and live with the constant worry of what your partner might end up doing next. Every single aspect of Molly's day and week is planned around Alex. It's exhausting. And heartbreaking.
"In the end, it's the little things that get to you.....It's our favourite joke in our favourite film, missed for the umpteenth time. It's being handed black tea with the tea bag still in...."
I think this book is brave because there is nothing sentimental or sugar coated about Molly and Alex's situation. It's hard to feel sympathy for Alex as despite his terrible suffering since his accident, on a day to day level he is very difficult to deal with and has few redeeming characteristics. And then although Molly is clearly under enormous pressure - which has built up over a period of time - she is also fallible, flawed, short tempered and openly frustrated. It's honest and it's realistic. It's not happy reading.
The story flits between the present day and then back to when they met. We are introduced to chapters from Alex from before the accident. This helps to break the intensity of the present situation and also gives the reader a chance to get to know Alex - the Alex Molly fell in love with. This also brings in a second plot line to the story. This narrative begins to expose the relationship between Alex and Graeme (Alex's twin brother who is very supportive and on hand to help Molly) and reveal more about their family life.
At this point the story becomes more multilayered as it becomes clear that there is some darker past hiding in Graeme and Alex's life and that Graeme may not be the person Molly thinks he is. And for those of us who love the dysfunctional relationships, we now become involved in the emotionally complex relationships between Alex, his brother and his parents.
The tale then moves rapidly along as the reader tries to piece together what actually happened on the night of Alex's accident. At the same time, the present day story line is also speeding along as Alex seems more and more out of control and their marriage more and more threatened. We are watching Molly tested to breaking point in the present day and Alex being tested to breaking point in the past. I enjoyed this second story line as it was gripping and compelling with all the twists and turns of a good family drama.
You'll have to read My Husband the Stranger yourself to see how the story lines collide and whether the characters can survive the challenges, obstacles and tests they face on their tough journeys - I'm not giving anything else away. I think some readers may find it a challenging read but this is not a morbid, vicarious novel looking for tears. It is an almost gritty read that is trying to convey the real emotional distress of 'in sickness and in health'. Ultimately this is also a book about love, commitment, decisions and families. Molly never loses sight of the man Alex used to be and neither should the reader.
My Husband the Stranger is published by Penguin on 6th April.
More on Rebecca Done
Rebecca Done lives in Norwich. After studying Creative Writing at the Norwich School of Art & Design, she worked for several years as a magazine editor. Currently a copywriter, Rebecca is also a keen runner, fair-weather surfer and one-time marathon canoeist.
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 (bibliomaniacuk) or check out my website www.bibliomaniacuk.co.uk