I read and reviewed Holly Wainwright’s debut novel, The Mummy Bloggers, last year and despised it with a fiery passion. It was frothy, stereotypical, anti-feminist crap and I loathed every character and every page. So, you can imagine my trepidation returning to the Wainwright waters for her third novel! (Her second, How To Be Perfect, was a sequel to The Mummy Bloggers so I figured I’d spare myself the rage migraines and skip it…)
Before I get into the book review, a little background on Wainwright might help. After all, why would I choose to read another novel by her after loathing her first with such vengeance?
Holly Wainright is the head of content for Mamamia, a women’s media, news, opinion, and lifestyle website that is hugely popular in Australia. She is also one of the three co-hosts for one of Australia’s most popular podcasts, Mamamia Out Loud. The other hosts include Jessie Stephens (a jaded millennial) and Mia Freedman (the site’s earnest and sometimes infuriating creator). Wainwright brings much needed maturity, insight, gentle humour, and humility to the trio. She has a long-term partner and two children, and speaks candidly about her struggles as a working mother.
With this, her third novel, I feel she is starting to find her voice on the page in the same way she has found her voice in the podcast studio. She has stepped away from the awful, bitchy and cliche prose of her first novel and moved into much more fertile grounds: the reality of a nine year marriage.
There is a dearth of pop-culture devoted to chronicling the heady realm of falling in love, but I’ve not read many novels that so aptly address the complexities of staying in love. After the first lusty months, the proposal, the marriage, the child/ren… When life turns from boozy costume parties to school pick-ups and drop offs, Christmas pageants, Saturday morning sport and awkward neighbourhood barbecues. When routine becomes settled, and seasons bleed into years… what happens if you let your attention slip and your resentments mount and your passions fizzle?
I Give My Marriage A Year chronicles the marriage of Josh and Lou. In the opening chapter, we learn that Lou is deciding to giver her all to making her marriage work… while naked lying in bed with another man. She sets herself a 12 month deadline to come to a decision on whether to stay or go, and sets monthly goals to help her make up her mind.
Crucially, Wainwright shifts focus back and forth between both Lou and her husband Josh throughout the novel. This shifting point of view provided a nuanced examination of a marriage on the brink of ending, lending much needed balance to the novel. We learn the couple’s history through flashbacks and are left, gripped, in the final pages wondering whether this couple will stay together or not.
This is not a loud novel. It is not ambitious or envelop-pushing. It is ordinary yet quietly meaningful. In writing the novel, Wainwright has drawn on a network of men’s and women’s relationship experienced garnered through her work and her life. If you’re in a long term relationship, you might see a little of yourself reflected back at you here and there throughout the novel.
I’m not sure how the novel will translate outside of Australia, but I really enjoyed reading it.
4 Hastily Wrapped and Belated Christmas Presents out of 5.