What’s A Married Man’s Story all about?:
Featuring two centuries of women’s short fiction, ranging from established Queens of the short story like Alice Munro and Angela Carter, to contemporary rising stars like Miranda July and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this is the biggest and most beautiful collection in print today.
Handpicked by one of the nation’s favourite novelists, Victoria Hislop – herself a great writer of, and champion for, short stories – and divided thematically into collections on love, loss and the lives of women, there’s a story for every mood, mindset and moment in life.
A Married Man’s story tells of a man who is unhappy in his marriage but unable to leave it which leads to him remembering events from his past.
What did I think?:
I was instantly attracted to this collection of short stories as they were picked and arranged by an author that I admire – Victoria Hislop, and spanned two hundred years worth of great women’s fiction. Hislop describes in the introduction that she split the stories into three sections: Love, Loss and The Lives of Women and the first story by Katherine Mansfield is the first in the “Love” section. Of course that does not necessarily guarantee a “happy” tale by any means as we all know that love can take many shapes and forms, perfectly demonstrated by Mansfield in the first story as she chooses to explore marriage from the eyes of a very complex (and desperately unhappy) married man.
As our unnamed male narrator is having the random thoughts that we are often familiar with in our daydreams, he is also observing his wife and child by the fire. His wife notices his restlessness and asks the loaded question: “What are you thinking?.” She is speaking rather timidly and tentatively as if fearing his response and when he answers that he was thinking of nothing, she mentions that he must have been thinking of something. Unfortunately this leads to him rebuking her even as her face “quivers.”
“Will she never grow accustomed to these simple – one might say – everyday little lies? Will she never learn not to expose herself – or to build up defences?”
So we find out our narrator is a very complicated man indeed. From comparing the shadow of his wife to a “Mother and Child” in his daydreams he seems to then turn on her in his thoughts and declare that he doesn’t see anything of the maternal in her at all. As he continues to think, we learn that he is very unhappy in his marriage and he believes his wife is too but neither of them will do anything about it. He explores the various reasons why people stay together i.e. for the children, for the habit, economic reasons, but in truth he believes that the two of them are “bound.”
A deeper reason may arise when our narrator starts thinking about his past which is a difficult thing for him to do. He remembers his childhood years with a weak and vulnerable mother confined to her room due to a traumatic birth and his father constantly busy in his pharmacy making potions for women to help them through hysterical periods. A lot of events are hazy and prove hard to recall but the one that stands out the most (and something I wasn’t expecting) is his mother who leaves her room for the first time to tell him that she had been poisoned by his father before dying of “heart failure” the next day. The rest of his childhood passes by with him feeling like an outcast, both in and out of his family home and suggests that the real reason he cannot end his marriage is that for once in his life he feels accepted and needed and is afraid to be alone again.
I’ve only read one other story by Katherine Mansfield which was also in my short stories challenge – Her First Ball but it is only with this tale that I’ve begun to appreciate the beauty in her style of writing. I was surprised to learn that this story is apparently unfinished as it felt quite adequate length and substance wise and it’s a shame we’ll never know what else she had to say. However, what she did write was evocative and incredibly intriguing and I loved exploring her narrator’s thoughts on love and marriage intertwined with the sad memories of his past loneliness. Even though he was fairly unreliable as a narrator, seeming to switch from points of view on his wife and life in general, he was a fascinating character to read about. It also made me wish that we had a second chapter on his wife’s points of view on the marriage as I began to feel quite sorry for her. If you’ve never read any Katherine Mansfield before, I’d recommend this story as a good place to start.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: The Barn At The End Of Our Term by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove