Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Memories of a Marriage," by Louis Begley

Well, there seems to be a theme in some of my recent posts: weddings and marriages (see, e.g., my posts of 8/29/13 and 9/28/13). Maybe marriages were on my mind (because of my daughter’s recent engagement) when I picked up Louis Begley’s ”Memories of a Marriage” (Doubleday, 2013), but I also like his novels and have read several of them over the years. Begley is a novelist of the old school; he writes about the lives of characters of the upper class, mostly in Manhattan, with side trips to other haunts of the wealthy. The narrator, Philip, is a writer in his later years; one day he runs into Lucy De Bourgh, a member of a prominent Upper East Coast family. They have not seen each other for many years, and reminisce about her ex-husband, now deceased, Thomas Snow, about whom Lucy has bitter memories. Philip has some sympathy for her, but also some for Thomas, and determines to find out more about what happened in their marriage. He meets with Lucy many times, as well as with others who knew both Lucy and Thomas, and gradually disentangles the various stories and perspectives about what “really” happened. The premise of the novel – that Philip would be interested enough to invest a fair amount of energy and time in this project (although he seems to have had a vague idea of writing a book about them – this book?) – seems a bit unlikely to me, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. And an elegant, low-key, gentlemanly ride it is. It is not without its provocative sections, especially as Lucy prides herself on candor, including candor about her love and sex life when she was young. It becomes clear that Lucy was and is a troubled woman, and a not particularly likeable one. This novel is more of an intellectual exercise than one that readers – at least this reader – get emotionally involved with. And what is set up as a sort of mystery never really pays off – there are revelations but they are not particularly surprising or intriguing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this novel, in a mild sort of way.

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