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8th August
2011
written by Steph

Don’t you just hate it when you have this huge backlog of books to review for you blog (like, we’re talking months behind here…) and you’re starting to feel like you’re making forward progress and then wham! You find yourself having to write about a book that was so totally mediocre (if inoffensive) that you kind of no longer have anything to say about it anymore. Because let me tell you, it’s not that the intervening months between my having finished Matrimony and actually writing about it have been unkind to the book so much as they have been indifferent. As in, if it were not for the notes I hastily jotted down when I finished it, I might not be able to say anything about it at all, because it has not really endured in my memory. I am thinking that we may have to retitle the book “Mehtrimony”, because that’s pretty much how I’m feeling about this book. I kid, I kid. I just mean this book is kind of forgettable. [Also, please don’t comment and say that you never have a backlog of books to review for your blog because I will both: a) hate you, and b) not believe you.] Anyway, back to the dilemma at hand: Matrimony. I picked this one up on a whim at McKay’s because I thought the cover was cute and I do so covet pretty blue shoes like the ones shown. I have said it before, but I will say it again: I am an exceedingly shallow person. (Please see the clip from the film About a Boy embedded below for more details.) But I didn’t really know much more than that, except that the quick perusal of the first page suggested that the writing was crisp and bold, which seemed good enough for me. YouTube Preview Image And I am happy to report that the writing really was very good throughout the entire duration of the novel, so for that point alone, I’d say I’m happy that I read Matrimony. I thought the prose had a real lightness and was very skilled; given that this is a novel about marriage and long-term relationships, you can be sure that it had its fair share of melodrama, and while I think that many books would go too far to make things scandalous for the benefit of the reader Henkin showed a good amount of restraint and clearly thought about the tone he wanted to convey and did so effectively. The book itself was rather predictable at times with certain twists quite apparent to any of us who have ever read a book or seen a movie that look at romantic relationships, but it certainly wasn’t unpleasant. I don’t know that I think this book covered much new ground in terms of the light it sheds on what it means to be married to someone and the storms one will weather when spending a lifetime alongside another person, and yet, I do think that the writing was very good and did elevate the content. If it was not the material that made this book anything remarkable, I do think that Henkin’s skill as a writer did much to make the book worthwhile. Like life itself, this book was funny at times and also very sad, so for those looking for a book that covers the broad spectrum of emotions, you’ll get that here.

My shoes and Tony's shoes are in love! Just like the book cover!

Ultimately, given the title, you’d expect this book to be very domestic, and it was, but one surprise to me was that it featured the writing process so heavily. One of the main characters, Julian, is an aspiring writer, and a good portion of the novel focuses on his travails in the literary arena, beginning with his days as a college student taking creative writing courses. I really enjoyed those bits of the novel, perhaps because they were so unexpected. I think that it was clever to use Julian’s profession as a foil to his marriage, since writing, like marriage, has its ups and downs and is never predictable. I did think that Julian was kind of a dink some of the times, and there was one part in the novel (one of the turning points, I suppose) where he discovers something about Mia, his wife, that throws him for a loop which I found almost unforgivable just because it was so cliché and also because I thought his reaction was kind of insanely extreme, but I suppose that is what goes for drama in these domestic novels. Maybe this misstep was good, since it gives me one tangible thing to remember about this book! I realize I haven’t really told you what this book is about, and that’s partially because I don’t entirely remember specifics, but also because in the end, the plot is simple: it’s about two people, who meet when they are young, and decide to be together until they are very old. It is about their life together. The things they face are much like the things all of us face at some time or another, but they choose to do it together. If you like books that are about quotidian aspect and the curve balls life throws every so often and we have to decide whether to swing at them or not, then you will like Matrimony, I think. It isn’t a book that affected me very much, in the end, but I know I did enjoy it as I read it. Sometimes, maybe it’s not so important to say something new as to say something old, but say it well. I think that’s what Henkin does here, so if you’re looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary, then give this book a try. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

14 Comments

  1. 08/08/2011

    1. I have had this book sitting on my shelf for YEARS.
    2. Cute shoes (yours…Tony probably wouldn’t appreciate me calling his shoes cute).

  2. 08/09/2011

    Love the complementary shoe photos, and love the film clip! It makes me want to see the movie again! I agree with the insanely extreme reaction thing being a now common trope for these sorts of books. I suppose you wouldn’t want the behavior actually to merit the reaction, because then it would be a serial killer book or something, and you wouldn’t want a jejune reaction because then the book would be sort of boring, with nothing to resolve!

  3. 08/09/2011

    I don’t think this one is for me. It sounds like I have read this book before, in many other forms, and while I love the cover (and your version of it) I just don’t think this is something that I could get excited about. And about that backlog. I am currently 5 months behind. 5 months!! At some points I feel like rushing up to people on the streets and grabbing their apparel and just shouting 5 months!! into their faces. It’s horrible, and I feel so guilty! So, no, it’s not just you!

  4. I *do* have a backlog, and because of it, I agree that it’s worst to review a meh-book than a bad-book. By the way, I miss one of your “1 out of 5” reviews 😉

    PS: Love the shoes (yours even more than the ones in the cover!)

  5. 08/11/2011

    @softdrink: I totally see how this book could sit on a shelf for years, undisturbed. My pretty blue shoes, on the other hand, get plenty of action! 😉
     
    @rhapsody: Yeah, what does it say that I’m just way more excited about having watched that About A Boy clip than this book? Such a great movie! Hugh Grant is sooooo great in it.
     
    @zibilee: I am now only 2 months behind, and since I haven’t been reading that much, that doesn’t make for that many books. But still it’s enough to stress me out! 5 months I probably couldn’t even handle!
     
    @ Alex: Meh books are the worst to review because they can’t be lambasted in good faith, and yet it’s so hard to muster up the energy to talk about them at all.
    Also, while I have happily not read any 1 star books in a while, I think I do have some fairly scathing reviews coming up in the future, so fasten your seatbelt… 😉

  6. 08/11/2011

    You know, I usually have a backlog of at least 4-5 books, but Teresa writes hers immediately. She doesn’t like having a backlog at all. So there’s at least one person. But you can’t hate Teresa!

  7. 08/11/2011

    Ummm..I read this one a few years back and am having a hard time remembering it as well. But I do know that I enjoyed it at the time and would read more by Henkin at some point. And I ALWAYS have a backlog of books if that makes you feel any better 🙂

  8. 08/15/2011

    I quite often have a backlog of books to review, but I’ve taken to just skipping books if I take too long, or if I’m not inspired to review it. I used to review everything, but it’s kind of liberating to realize you don’t actually have to!

  9. 08/16/2011

    Agree so much with Dorothy W’s comment. There are a lot of meh books that I read this year and didn’t bother to mention on my blog – purely no energy to think up anything to write at all.

    I must say you have done a good job of analyzing what was so meh about this book and still providing a good, balanced review.

    This is good stuff!

  10. 08/17/2011

    @ Jenny: You’re right, I can’t hate Teresa! But at this moment, I kind of want to… 😉
     
    @ Samantha: I think I would probably read more Henkin if someone say, put a book of his directly in my hands and told me to read it. Matrimony was fine, but it didn’t leave enough of an impression that I’ll be seeking out more from this author, I guess.
     
    @ Dorothy: I so desperately wish I could skip books, but part of why I started this blog was so that I could sort of have a reading diary of the things I’ve read and how I responded to them. It’s as much for me to think about my reading as it is to recommend titles to other people, so for that reason, I feel like I must write about everything!
     
    @ Nishita: I realized in the end that I maybe was unfair at the start to say this book was so meh, because there really were so many good things about it. But ultimately it pretty much made no impression on me, so I guess that’s enough of a reason to dub it “meh”!

  11. 08/18/2011

    Nice review, Steph! This looks like an old-fashioned interesting book. I will look for it. I loved your comment – “I am thinking that we may have to retitle the book “Mehtrimony”” 🙂 I am normally very prompt in posting my reviews, but during the past few months I have been lagging behind and now I know that I won’t be able to ever catch up with the backlog this year. I think that inspite of what you said, you seemed to have liked the book, because your affection for the book comes through in the review 🙂

  12. 08/23/2011

    I remember it was all over the book blogging sphere when it first came out. Numerous blogs hosted a give away and the book was everywhere where books could be found. I didn’t pick it up because judging from the cover, it’s chick lit but obviously I’m wrong! I’ll keep my eye on this one since it sounds like a perfect book between those time-honored classics.

    As per avoiding backlog of reviews, i try to write reviews within a day or two after I finish a book. I get discouraged after too much time elapsed.

  13. 08/25/2011

    I’m with Jill… though I appreciated your review (and love About a Boy), I thought, “wow… she has cute taste!” as soon as I saw those shoes. LOVE. Now whenever I see this title, I will be thinking of YOUR cute shoes.

  14. 09/23/2011

    @ Vishy: I am happy to report that I am slowly but surely catching up with my backlog of books! I only have about 3 left before I will be all caught up! Eep!
     
    @ Matt: Definitely not chick lit! It’s very much a domestic novel, but not one that I feel is specifically meant for a female audience.
    And I used to be so good about writing reviews within a day or two of finishing books, but this year, not so much…
     
    @ Wallace: Thanks! Those cute shoes came from Naturalizers, if you can believe it! So not only are they adorbs, they’re also super comfy! Win, win, win!

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