Saturday, 24 August 2019

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler


The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
Published by Alfred A Knopf in January 2004.

How I got this book:
Swapped for at a campsite book exchange

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Michael and Pauline seemed like the perfect couple - young, good-looking, made for each other. The moment she walked into his mother's grocery store in Baltimore, he was smitten, and in the heat of World War II fervour, they marry in haste. From the sound of the cash register in the old grocery to the counter-culture jargon of the sixties, from the miniskirts to the multilayers of later years, we watch their lives unspool and see the consequences of their very mismatched marriage. 

This review was first blogged on Stephanie Jane in April 2016.
I am slowly working my way through the Anne Tyler back catalogue! The Amateur Marriage is my eighth of her novels I think and I was delighted to see it on the book exchange shelves at Camping Casteillets . The novel is, again, set in Baltimore and examines the minutiae and often mundane realities of a seemingly perfect marriage as it unravels over several decades. Michael Anton is the only surviving son of a war widow in a close-knit Polish-American community. Pauline Barclay is one of several daughters in a prosperous American family which lives just twenty minutes away but might as well come from another planet. Pauline and her red coat breeze into Michael's steady sedate life and, in the emotional maelstrom of wartime, the two rapidly fall in love. Despite some misgivings both from themselves and their communities, a whirlwind romance becomes marriage.

I loved the comments from the Polish St Cassian's women that Pauline doesn't even have a real nationality - "Ukrainian they could have understood, or even Italian". Michael's heritage is so different from what Pauline expects and this, as well as their ever increasing clash of temperaments, slowly drives the two to despair. I appreciated that neither Michael nor Pauline is portrayed as a victim of the other. Both are equally exasperating, self-centered and convinced of their own opinions. A complete illustration of the maxim "marry in haste, repent at leisure", Tyler portrays them wonderfully. The story jumps forward by several years at a time so we can understand how they grow together then apart, how cultural expectations such as Michael's mother living with them cause additional difficulties, and how their growing family suffer in the chasm.

Anne Tyler is one of my favourite authors anyway and The Amateur Marriage has reinforced my desire to read all her novels. I love how she can make the most mundane of conversations come alive with hidden meaning and how her characters are always believable and compelling even when they are not the least bit likeable. I sympathised and then rolled my eyes at both Michael and Pauline in turn! The Amateur Marriage does go to some dark places - this novel certainly is not a light romance - but it is a very rewarding read.


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by Hickory Point Farm in
Maryland, USA

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8 comments:

  1. That's very different from what I usually read but I'm glad you liked it.

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  2. I read and liked one of her books but can't remember what it was called. I think it had to do with adopting kids from somewhere like South Korea. There were really funny bits in it.

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    1. Could have been Digging To America?
      I did read that one, but way before I started blogging and I find now that if I haven't reviewed books then I struggle to remember them - so I could read it again!

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  3. I've only read one of her books. It's a Hogarth Shakespeare edition of Taming of the Shrew. I liked it, but I felt, at the time, detached from the story.

    I should try this one.

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    1. Vinegar Girl! I've actually read a couple of the other Hogarth novels, but not this one yet

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  4. Oh wow, she is one of your favourite authors? I am glad that this one didn't disappoint in any way in that case! I have heard of her books before but hadn't read any for myself. It sounds like I really need to do that. I have an ebook of Vinegar Girl I believe, so I might start there.

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    1. Vinegar Girl is one I haven't yet read!
      Ladder Of Years is my favourite :-)

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