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The Marriage Diaries    by Rebecca Campbell order for
Marriage Diaries
by Rebecca Campbell
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Their marriage in the doldrums, Sean and Celeste each write a journal (hers in response to the discovery of his) - hence the title, The Marriage Diaries. The reader gets to know this English couple - and Celeste also learns new things about the husband she appears to have taken for granted - through their commentaries on life and life partner.

In this marriage, the fabulous Celeste is the breadwinner, working - and wholly absorbed - in the London fashion business, while brainy, socialist Sean has somewhat reluctantly stayed home with their small son Harry, taking on occasional writing assignments. They seem rather an Odd Couple, with very different sets of friends and interests. What did Celeste see in him? 'I was getting someone kind and funny, with a face that appeared quite handsome until he smiled, and then, once that smile was uncoiled, completely irresistible.'

Celeste stumbles upon Sean's journal in his computer late one night. She's hurt by his criticisms - he speaks of her beauty as having 'a cold, flawless, crystalline perfection about it' - and anxious about an admiring reference to another woman, Uma Thursday, met in a Freudian playgroup. Celeste's shrink encourages her to keep on reading Sean's diary - and to pen a counter-journal of her own. It's telling that one of Sean's entries says of Celeste, 'What she doesn't do is make me feel good about myself', as their marriages declines in the direction of 'nuclear winter'.

Through their entries, we see Sean's developing friendship with, and admiration for, the stunning, intelligent, and cutting yet vulnerable Uma, along with Celeste's retaliatory affair with Sean's good friend Ludo. While this goes on, Sean acquires a job as a radio journalist, whining weekly about his househusband role, his 'failures, and general mess-ups.' The family moves in with Celeste's parents while their apartment is being renovated, but Sean returns to the mess and chaos - as preferable to life with the in-laws - to work on a book. Celeste discovers that she misses him, as does Harry, the beginning of their reconciliation.

As Celeste tells Ludo, 'You never know what you can find in a relationship, even after it looks like the cupboard's bare.' Though at first I found the two leads not very likeable - rather self-absorbed for parents of a small child - they grew on me in this witty, sharp-edged (especially in the portrayal of Sean's mother-in-law Bella, whose 'hand was as cold and dry as an Inca body found preserved in a mountain cave') and satirical novel that analyses the tough years in marriage when familiarity creates a degree of contempt and the bases of love are taken for granted.

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