Book Review: The Couples by Lauren Mackenzie

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, reviews the romantic novel, The Couples, from award-winning author Lauren Mackenzie.

The Sydney-born but now-Dublin-residing Mackenzie’s first novel is a multi-character study following three chummy, getting-on-a-bit couples who make a fateful decision at a get-together after plenty of drink and a little ecstasy (or at least they hoped it was ecstasy).

Mackenzie, however, fortunately doesn’t turn this into some kind of clichéd psychodramatic potboiler in the tired way other writers might have: instead, this is about the people, their trickily interconnected relationships, their fantasies and their guilt, and how they transform in the aftermath.

Former enfant-terrible filmmaker Frank takes his besties to a country guest house outside Dublin for his birthday weekend, leaving their assorted children and myriad commitments at home. His (supposedly) loving wife Lizzie is there, as well as stay-at-home parent Beatrice and doctor Conor, and teacher Eva and gardener Shay, and when they’re all high as kites, it’s Frank who suggests that they partner-swap. No regrets, no shame, and for one night only. Yeah, right.

Some of them later struggle to remember what happened the evening before, while others know all too well, and while they try to move on and be just friends again, it naturally doesn’t work that way. Two are soon engaging in a secret affair, while others are on the verge of breaking up or suffering psychological issues, as all six are hit with a relentless barrage of problems that typically face middle-aged people: extended families with needy kids and ailing parents; unemployment and job dissatisfaction; ceaseless financial woes; and the now-uncontrollable feeling that they want more. Whatever exactly that might mean for each of them.

Despite the decidedly difficult nature of every member of this sextet (especially the hardly amiable Frank), Mackenzie finds great compassion for them all, and it’s almost a relief that this doesn’t descend into some kind of horror-movie situation where everyone starts murdering everyone else. No, here the stakes aren’t these characters’ very lives, but their emotions.

And surely that’s scary enough?

Hachette Australia: John Murray, RRP $32.99


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