Elisa Lodato: The Necessary Marriage
Published By: W&N
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
Jane is sixteen when she falls in love with her teacher. Leonard Campbell is everything she has ever wanted: handsome, intelligent and attentive. He singles Jane out, giving her novels to read and discuss over long walks and cosy dinners. It is only once married, tied down and tied down with two children in 1980s suburbia that Jane realises she might have settled too early, losing much of herself in the process.
Then Marion and Andrew, a couple whose passion frequently tips into violence, move in next door, forcing Jane to confront feelings she didn’t know she could have. And when Marion abandons her family, Jane steps in to help with the couple’s two boys, setting in motion a series of events, all of which expose the push and pull within every relationship. As desire and loyalty are blurred, it becomes clear that nobody can escape the devastating impact of a family falling apart.
The Necessary Marriage is an intense, intimate portrait of how couples come together and grow apart, and the passions that drive us to do crazy things.
What I Say:
“The need to connect with another human being. To have part of you awakened by the attentions of another. To have and to hold. To touch and to take. But her own decisions to take Leonard at his first offering had weighed her down. To this armchair. To this child.”
As soon as I started reading Elisa’s first novel, An Unremarkable Body, I knew I had found an author with an incredible voice and a unique perspective, and loved every single page.
When I heard that Elisa had a new novel coming out, obviously it had to go to the top of my reading pile, and was very flattered that Jennifer at Orion kindly sent me a copy of The Necessary Marriage.
There is always that fear when you get an author’s second novel that it won’t be the same, that the connection to the characters and the drive of the narrative will be somehow different. For me, The Necessary Marriage cements Elisa as one of the best new authors I have been fortunate to discover.
Jane and Leonard meet, fall in love and have a family. So far, so straightforward. The one fact that makes this a moral maze is that Leonard is Jane’s teacher and she is just seventeen when they meet. Leonard is in his thirties and devoted to his job and his mother.
The surprising thing from the start is that this is not a case of an older man setting out to seduce one of his pupils. Jane wants Leonard, and her attraction and desire means she sets out to make him hers. From the outset, you understand that Jane wants to be his wife, her love for him and her intelligent arguments about her feelings for him mean that although her parents are initially vehemently against it, they can see how determined their daughter is.
Leonard understands the complexity of the situation too, but cannot deny the attraction he feels towards Jane. He rebuffs her, ignores her and tries to make her aware of all the obstacles they face, but starts to realise he is enthralled by her and wants Jane too.
However, after his reservations become too much, he ends their relationship which sets Jane off on a course of irrational and uncharacteristic behaviour. Jane tries to console herself by acting as she thinks she should, rather than being true to her feelings. This leads her to Jamie, and a misjudged relationship she only participates in to try to forget Leonard.
Finally, Leonard and Jane reconcile and marry. This should be the start of the marriage that Jane has yearned for, the idyllic notion of a husband and wife together for the rest of their days. Elisa’s skill in writing their unconventional relationship leads us to believe that Jane has finally got her happy ever after. The only problem is that as soon as they share the marital bed, Jane realises this is not what she had imagined. Jane’s idealised notion of marriage and love has not come to fruition, and she is now coming to the shocking conclusion that her needs and desires do not match those of Leonard. Jane is trapped.
As the marriage trundles on, Jane and Leonard have two girls, Becca and Julia. Jane is now a wife and mother, her own hopes and desires subsumed by the needs of others and the daily monotony means that she has to pack away her own dreams as her identity slowly slips away from her.
Perhaps this is why when Marion, Andrew, Robbie and Jonathan move in next door, Jane is at once intrigued and appalled by them. They seem socially poles apart from her reserved middle class family, having inherited their house from Andrew’s father, but as we see, Marion and Andrew face exactly the same hopes and fears as they do. They are brash, loud and unapologetic, and from the start you can see Marion’s unhappiness in her own marriage and her reluctance to do what Andrew feels she should. The difference between Jane and Marion is that Marion has no qualms in putting her own happiness first. After relying heavily on Jane to provide both moral support and most of her childcare, no one is overly concerned when Marion disappears.
Having seen how Jane and Leonard came to be in their situation, we now see the story of Marion and Andrew. Elisa takes us right back to the first time they met, how Marion was forced to come and live in London with her brother Jonny after the death of their parents. Unlike Jane, Marion does not pursue Andrew – she seems to fall into the relationship with this boy who hangs around with her brother, but when she becomes pregnant, a new determination and force drives her to make a place for her family.
All the while she is with Andrew, you sense that there is something far more sinister about him, that his turbulent childhood has made him the man he is today. Someone who is on the edge of something, fuelled by a simmering resentment towards his violent father and the shell of a woman his mother became as a result. Marion realises that Andrew is not a placid man, and when she tries to leave, Andrew puts his hand round her throat. When they move into the house next to Jane and Leonard, the scene has been set for an unhappy marriage and Jane seems to be drawn towards Andrew. Maybe he is the embodiment of the desire and passion she lacks from her relationship with Leonard.
As Jane and Andrew move closer together, Leonard warns her that he senses Andrew is not as innocent as he seems. Jane is torn between doing what is expected, and what she truly desires. Not suprisingly, after having to live a life of looking after everyone else, she decides it is time to put her needs first.
This decision starts the disintegration of the two families, as Jane and Andrew grow increasingly close and blur the physical and emotional boundaries of their marriages. Coupled with Becca’s relationship with Andrew’s son Jonathan, the families are pulled together and forced to confront the fact that they are now and forever inextricably linked. What follows in the novel, will change all of them forever, and make Jane question whether it is better to live a mundane but safe life, or risk everything for the life she craves.
The Necessary Marriage is a beautifully written and thoughtful exploration of marriage, love, motherhood and identity. Elisa skilfully draws us into two marriages, seemingly completely different, but at the heart of both lies the same question. Is it better to settle for what we have, or to strive for what we believe we deserve, irrespective of the consequences.
As Jane says at the end of a novel, ‘The idea of a person and the reality of a life together. She saw it all now.’
I loved it, and cannot wait to read Elisa’s next novel.