Arts, OldVenue

Book Review: Thomas and Mary: A Love Story

To quote the beginning of 500 Days of Summer “this is not a love story. This is a story about love”. Or more so this is a story about how downright miserable being in love can be. If you are looking for a lovey-dovey romance with the typical happily ever after, do not read this book. However you could use this book as an insight to the unfortunate relationships that entrench some people’s lives. Tim Parks intends to show you the harsh reality of marriage. It is a marriage that nobody wants. Perhaps rather than a story of love, this is a story of lessons. The lesson being that if you’re unhappy, change it immediately otherwise you’ll be 60 years old living in a drab flat in Liverpool. The author has done a spectacular job at ruining any dreams of love and marriage. But what must be remembered is that Thomas and Mary are fundamentally different people not destined for a marriage of ‘until death do us part’. More ‘until I can’t put up with your crap anymore do us part’. In this case opposites do attract initially but then continue to repel each other into incredible sadness.

When you read this book, read it with a notebook and pen by your side. Nearly every chapter changes which character is to narrate the lives of Thomas and Mary, if not mostly the protagonists themselves. Although the brief blurb claims this is a ‘love story in reverse’, it is not entirely. It does not start with their older selves living hopelessly alone and end with the pair when they first met and fell head over heels for each other. Rather each chapter flickers to and from different time periods of their marriage, focusing on one particular poignant moment each time which beautifully displays the shreds of their relationship. Mostly it is unclear who the narrator is, leaving you to search for clues as to whom is disclosing this information. Nonetheless each detail reveals why Thomas and Mary simply do not belong together.

However this book is not all doom and gloom. There are small glimmers of hope for Thomas and Mary and their nuclear family. There are also some humorous moments. Yet these glimmers and moments are few and far between. Hinting as to why both partners decide to remain complacent with their marriage, waiting for the other to crack and give up. It would seem that their relationship is one of convenience, rather than whole hearted love with the utmost respect and the expected overwhelming flood of emotions.

Were they ever actually in love? There doesn’t seem to be any part in the book where they are in love. They never seem to fall out of love either. There is no great upset, no fight for each other, if anything this ‘love story’ lacks a lot of love. The only love there really is, is towards other family members, friends or adulterous lovers. This is a life story. With much of the narration by Thomas, you cannot help but feel sorry for Mary who has to put up with this self-indulged, wanton player who has no time to invest in his marriage but plenty of time to moan about everything Mary has supposedly done wrong.

Mary, towards the end of the book, poignantly says “I loved the father he was…we still loved each other, I think”. This is one of the very few times the big L word is used. The uncertainty is a prominent theme throughout the book. Neither of them are sure of what they want, what is happening or why their lives are trudging along the mediocracy path.

The sad truth is that Thomas and Mary are one of those couples who believe what they are experiencing is love, but actually have settled for each other through ease and stay together because of the children. Tim Parks’ writing perfectly portrays and reflects the mood of the couple with a rather stiff report of the glum marriage. He teaches the reader everything a relationship should not be. The lesson is to not be like Thomas and Mary.


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June 2022
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