To most of us married folks, open marriages seem like the most fascinating and mythical of beasts. Just as with a unicorn, I wouldn’t want one for myself (imagine the hair everywhere!), but if a friend had one, I would want to know as much as possible. So it was for me, twenty years or more ago in London, when one of my colleagues revealed that she and her husband had one such relationship – an open marriage that is, not a unicorn! Mrs H, as she shall be known, had married at twenty, partly as an act of rebellion, but mostly because she genuinely loved her husband. They were the ultimate realists and as they watched their friends break-up and make-up, they had agreed that the best way to stay together was not by monogamy, but by freedom of choice. She talked about their relationship with such candour that I was able to ask pretty much every question I had ever had on the subject. Yes, it worked for them both. No she didn’t take as much advantage of it as he did and finally, she told me when they had decided to end it. Not their marriage, but the ‘open element’ of it. It seems that everyone draws the line somewhere.
The Husband and I have never dallied with such an idea (the jealousy would kill both of us), but as a topic for a novel…. Well, it’s pretty irresistible. In The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn, the idea of an open marriage is first suggested at a dinner party. Two couples sit around the dinner table talking about how some friends are enjoying the perks of an open marriage and how it is making their relationship not weaker but stronger. Life for Lucy and Owen is not without it’s trials and tribulations, but their love for each other has never been in question. Certainly they have been married for a while and as with most marriages, certain things have slipped, but could a blast of infidelity help?
I wouldn’t say that Dunn’s story is particularly surprising, but the story is strong and engaging. Lucy and Owen are both likeable characters trying to do their best with a child on the spectrum, whilst staying in a marriage that just can’t be as exciting as it once was. There’s a realism here in their approach to the agreement (six-months no more) and the way in which each pursues the opportunity. Humor and a fun lack of realism is added by the presence in their small town of a multi-millionaire, a character of the utmost selfishness, named Gordon who seeks the removal of a transgender staff member from his son’s school. I did wonder how these two stories could ever dovetail, but they do and very effectively adding a further level of morality to the piece.
This isn’t high literature by any means but if it’s a salacious read that you fancy, then by all means go ahead!