Top 10: Books About Marriage

The novel I’m writing, the first in a series tentatively titled Monkey See, centres on the lives of a couple who’ve been married for five years, Danior and Iolanthe, and the bond that forms between them and a laboratory monkey named Chacho. Five weeks before I got married, at the wedding of a dear friend, the father of the groom made a speech which included these words:

marriage is like a city under siege; those who are in want out and those who are out want in.

Now that I have been married for 12 years, those words make much more sense to me! My novel explores, among other things, what draws us to choose a companion for life, the choices we make as individuals that can strain those fundamental relationships, and the ways we patch the holes in those relationships. It got me thinking about other good books about marriage:

The Signature of All Things by Liz Gilbert is the story of a most unconventional marriage and how the assumptions we make about things that go unspoken can have devastating consequences.

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver opens with a woman on her way to a tryst with a lover, knowing that it will spell the end of her marriage.

How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman interrogates traditional notions of what makes a good wife and the myriad ways in which women can be oppressed by the institution of marriage.

Justin Cronin’s Mary & O’Neil is a novel-in-stories which opens with one of the most fantastic wedding scenes I’ve ever read and follows one couple throughout their lives; beautiful.

In Kim Lock’s The Three of Us, a married couple make room for another woman in their lives, in a time before polyamory was a ‘thing’!

Has there ever been a book more excruciatingly awkward than Ian McEwan‘s wedding night gone wrong novella On Chesil Beach?

Jeffrey Eugenides gets all meta in The Marriage Plot in which a young woman who is studying the marriage plot in 19th century fiction finds herself in a new marriage where her husband’s mental health issues wreak havoc.

Richard Yates pulverised my fragile heart in Revolutionary Road, the story of a couple who try so valiantly to break the mould of a banal suburban life and find themselves thwarted, with devastating consequences.

In Fates & Furies Lauren Groff tells the story of a union seemingly blessed by the gods, but of course, beneath the surface lie all manner of Faustian pacts and dark secrets.

Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant is one of her little-known books but it is a favourite of mine, and is a beautiful meditation on how marriage can be repurposed to fit unconventional relationships.

Your turn:

What are your favourite books about marriage?


6 thoughts on “Top 10: Books About Marriage”

  1. I’ve only read On Chesil Beach, and you’re right, it’s such an impressive piece of writing about a wedding night. Unforgettable.

    Other favourites include Elizabeth Jolley’s The sugar mother, and An innocent gentleman. And Helen Garner in The children’s Bach.

    1. I read The Children’s Bach so long ago I can’t remember the marriage in that one at all. And, disgracefully, haven’t read Jolley.

  2. Great list and your novel sounds interesting. My favourites: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved. Can’t remember if they’re actually married in the latter, but it’s a beautiful portrait of a long relationship through many trials. Oh wait, also Patrick White’s Tree of Man – could say the same of it.

    1. I can’t really remember the marriage in Freedom though it’s not that long since I read it. What I Loved is an amazing book and what that couple go through – first their own loss and then that monstrous boy. *shudder*. I love that book.

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