Day 877: Literary Wives! The Happy Marriage

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in modern fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Ariel of One Little Library
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

My Review

Cover for The Happy MarriageA famous painter living in Casablanca tells the story of his marriage in a “secret manuscript” as he recovers from a debilitating stroke. From all accounts, he has married a woman who is almost a lunatic. He tells how his family objected to his marrying beneath his social status but he was in love. Now that he has married this much younger woman, his relatives’ fears have been realized. She has poor taste, she is vulgar, irrationally jealous. She has fits of rage where she disturbs his work and even destroys it. She is constantly asking for money and giving it away to her relatives. She drinks too much and hangs out with unpleasant characters.

In the artist’s story, he is mild-mannered and generous, just trying to figure out a way to handle her irrational outbursts. Finally, he begins trying to get a divorce.

Amina, the artist’s wife, discovers his manuscript and we hear her version of the story—which is completely different. Amina’s story is about insults to her family, consistent unfaithfulness, miserliness and lies.

This novel reminds me very much of Fates and Furies, which has the same structure and intent. However, Fates and Furies seems both more unlikely and more nuanced. The Happy Marriage deals in problems that can trouble marriage—infidelity, money issues, dislike of a spouse’s friends, real and imagined insults—but we see nothing of the more subtle aspects of human relations.

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

Although I think we’re ultimately supposed to sympathize with Amina, the two characters in this novel are so angry with each other that their whole relationship seems clichéd to me. I’m not sure what this book ultimately says about wives. Its main point seems to be a larger one about how people self-justify their own bad behavior and see things from their own point of view. Both of the narrators, but certainly the husband, are untrustworthy.

Still, it seems that the husband married to have a wife that he thought he could control. He picked a much younger woman who was in love with him and would be dependent upon him financially. Many of his other choices seem to be made from vanity about his position.

Literary Wives logoThe wife’s rights are changing under Moroccan law, but even though the book blurb mentions this, it does not seem important to the story except that she can prevent their divorce. In effect, the husband is reduced to blackening her name with everyone and depicting her as unstable.

But Amina seemed to be happy in their relationship as long as she could travel with him and thought he was being faithful. That is, she seemed content with being treated as a trophy wife until she had to stay home with the kids (and of course, this coincided with the infidelity, it seems). So, I’m not sure that her idea of marriage is any more strongly developed than his. In this particular marriage, everything seems to boil down to a struggle for control.

Related Posts

Fates and Furies

The Kreutzer Sonata Variations

A Circle of Wives

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28 thoughts on “Day 877: Literary Wives! The Happy Marriage

  1. Naomi April 4, 2016 / 7:44 am

    “Its main point seems to be a larger one about how people self-justify their own bad behavior and see things from their own point of view.” I love this, Kay! I was having trouble trying to figure out what the point of this novel was, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    I’m also glad you put in the bit about the changed Moroccan divorce law – I neglected to mention it.
    I agree that their struggle for control in their marriage overshadows any kind of real effort to form a happy marriage. It just doesn’t seem possible to me that they can have one at this point. Unless, of course, their idea of a happy marriage is to be in control of it, but that would only be satisfying for the one on control.

    • Ariel Bartlett April 4, 2016 / 10:46 pm

      YES! You really got that right, Kay. Both of them wanted to control the other.

      • whatmeread April 5, 2016 / 7:30 am

        That’s why I’m so suspicious of the ending.

  2. whatmeread April 4, 2016 / 7:46 am

    Yes, exactly! I do not foresee a happy future for either of them. Thanks for your comments! I’m waiting to see Lynn’s “I hate this book” review! 🙂

    • Naomi April 4, 2016 / 9:14 am

      Yes, that should be fun to read! 🙂

  3. whatmeread April 4, 2016 / 9:15 am

    Yes, I told her I was happy to see someone else writing one for a change!

  4. Emily J. April 4, 2016 / 2:04 pm

    Good point about it being cliched. I liked that the wife’s voice came in at the end, but it was almost too obvious that they were both unreliable narrators. I’m still not sure what to think of the marriage, although, as I wrote before, it seems like the author wants us to think that it has become something happy. I’m not convinced either.

    • Naomi April 5, 2016 / 7:08 am

      Do you think the author really believes it has become something happy, or only that *some* people might consider it happy (maybe a cultural thing, maybe this sort of marriage is very common in Morocco)?

      • whatmeread April 5, 2016 / 7:32 am

        I was suspicious about it being happy at all, or just another, more saintly seeming, means of control. What does everyone else think?

      • Naomi April 5, 2016 / 10:14 am

        I think control.

      • Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors April 5, 2016 / 10:59 am

        I just updated my posting with a link to this review: http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/book-review/tahar-ben-jellouns-the-happy-marriage-tony-malone. Honestly, I think perhaps my first instinct with this is what I should have concentrated on. It just seemed too obvious? With the seemingly disengaged artist’s ‘voice’ I felt he represented males, particularly Muslim males, when contemplating marriage with a submissive ‘waitress-like’ wife, then we are blasted out by the indiividual female voice of Amina, representing individual Muslim females attempting to assert themselves and gain some rights within this society/culture which is majority Muslim. Though this woman was CRAZY! Wasn’t she? The thought had occurred to me that she could represent the Muslim females who have been falsely accused by their husbands of infidelity/insanity just so they could get their wife out of the way and allow themselves to be single again. However, I felt that my feelings about this were too specific to one religion, though as I researched Jelloun and this book a bit more, I feel that may be at least somewhat accurate.

  5. whatmeread April 4, 2016 / 2:06 pm

    Yeah, I’m not so sure. After all, the wife’s idea of a happy marriage at the end is hardly one that the husband would be happy with, or is it? And is she even sincere? I wasn’t sure. To me the ending was almost eerie. Here he is trapped in his physical condition, and she can do almost anything she wants to him.

    • Naomi April 5, 2016 / 7:09 am

      That’s the feeling I got from it, too, Kay.
      If I were the husband, I would be afraid! 🙂

      • whatmeread April 5, 2016 / 7:33 am

        Yes, I was creeped out.

  6. Lynn Gerrard April 4, 2016 / 10:42 pm

    Though I did not like Fates and Furies either, I actually felt it was more likely than this relationship. I guess I could easily believe her background and plotting to marry him, etc., but I couldn’t believe much of anything about these two characters! I like the fact that you point out he does use real-life issues between these two characters that can definitely confound a marriage/long-term relationship! And I think you distilled it down to what bothered me so much…self-justification of bad behavior. Ugh! I hate that! Also agree about children. I mentioned that children change a relationship greatly. Battling for control. Perhaps that was the foundation for this pitiful excuse of a marriage! Glad it’s done and over. On to something I trust will be much more enjoyable for me.

    • whatmeread April 5, 2016 / 7:29 am

      The things I meant were less likely were the wife’s back story. But I think this relationship was likely in that people get so angry with each other sometimes that they become irrational. And I’ve seen people self-justify their behavior time and time again. But I think you’re saying something different, maybe, that you didn’t find the characters believable because they’re not drawn well? Is that it?

      • Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors April 5, 2016 / 11:01 am

        Yes, as I mentioned I couldn’t connect with the characters and since I typically feel as if my main focus in reading is on the characterization, I found this book impossible to resonate with as I read. I believe that is the main reason. I really want to read another of his works that has been translated just to see what I think of his writing style in a different work.

      • whatmeread April 5, 2016 / 11:05 am

        So, maybe what you’re saying is not that they’re not drawn well but that you didn’t like them. I don’t think we’re supposed to like them, but I found them completely believable.

      • Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors April 5, 2016 / 11:09 am

        I didn’t like either of them. They were both scary, but that doesn’t usually put me off. I can only cite the writing style, which is why I would like to read another one of his works just to see if it was this one book or any book he writes wouldn’t resonate with me. I believe that is most of the frustration for me–an inability to determine exactly what I found impossible about this one! 🙂 But, it’s done and over and I read a bit of Maeve Binchy last night and reestablished my comfort level with a book/author! 🙂

      • whatmeread April 5, 2016 / 11:11 am

        Hmmm, well, it’s also hard to tell with a translation. It was translated, wasn’t it?

      • Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors April 5, 2016 / 11:16 am

        In answer to your last question regarding translation. Yes, it is. I also wondered if maybe that was part of it. But I would like to at least try reading one more of his translated works just to see.

  7. Ariel Bartlett April 4, 2016 / 10:47 pm

    Can we also talk about the fact that the wife was the only one whose name we found out? I thought that was interesting, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Amina calls her husband “Foulane,” but that’s not his actual name. Did you pick up on that?

    • whatmeread April 5, 2016 / 7:31 am

      Yes, that was interesting, wasn’t it? I assumed that was because he was supposed to be famous and he didn’t want people to know who he was. Did you have other ideas?

    • Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors April 5, 2016 / 11:13 am

      That was what made me wonder if this wasn’t meant as an allegory with the artist representing a “traditional”/’typical’ Muslim male while she (who is named!) represented the individual female Muslim fighting for her newly granted rights in such a rigid patriarchal culture/society. After researching him and the book a bit more today, I’m not so sure that may not have some validity.

      • Ariel Bartlett April 5, 2016 / 9:35 pm

        That sounds pretty plausible, Lynn! I honestly didn’t understand it.

  8. Carolyn O April 5, 2016 / 9:33 am

    I like the idea of reading this alongside Fates and Furies.

    • whatmeread April 5, 2016 / 9:35 am

      I read Fates and Furies recently enough that I could mostly remember it, but that might even be more interesting.

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