#LiteraryWives: State of the Union by Nick Hornby

Literary Wives is an on-line book group that examines the meaning and role of wife in different books. Four times a year, we post and discuss a book with this question in mind:

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

Don’t forget to check out the other members of Literary Wives to see what they have to say about the book!

Goodreads synopsis: Tom and Louise meet in a pub before their couple’s therapy appointment. Married for years, they thought they had a stable home life–until a recent incident pushed them to the brink. Going to therapy seemed like the perfect solution. But over drinks before their appointment, they begin to wonder: what if marriage is like a computer? What if you take it apart to see what’s in there, but then you’re left with a million pieces? Unfolding in the minutes before their weekly therapy sessions, the ten-chapter conversation that ensues is witty and moving, forcing them to look at their marriage–and, for the first time in a long time, at each other.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

I think the way this story is set up is brilliant. A couple meet each week in a pub across the road from their marriage therapist, long enough to have a chat and a drink before their appointment. All the information we get about this couple and their lives comes from their dialogue with each other.

Louise and Tom are in therapy because Louise had an affair (not Tom!). A short one, and not even a pleasurable one. But still, a breach of trust. Also, Louise (not Tom!) is the one complaining that Tom never wants to have sex. So she’s feeling lonely and rejected by her husband. Then she discovered that he stopped having sex with her because she once told him he was boring in bed. Not great for confidence. So, can they fix this mess?

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

So many stories are about the man feeling rejected or bored, resulting in an affair. so many stories are about the man wanting more sex than the woman. This book is saying that women can experience all these things, too. Women can want more sex and have affairs when they’re not getting what they want. It’s nice to see it the other way around for a change.

I feel like I say this a lot, but again it comes down to communication. (If I get one thing out of belonging to this book club, it will be better communication with my husband!) If Tom had told Louise how her comment made him feel, they could have done something about it. (Not to make Louise’s infidelity Tom’s fault – that’s not what I mean.)

The book could also be saying that affairs don’t have to spell out the end. That you got together in the first place for a reason, and maybe you can get that back. There is hope!

Tom and Louise have a whole discussion about whether or not they could have been friends outside of marriage and, if not, what does this mean for their marriage? How many things should you have in common? Is living together with sex enough to make a marriage work? Maybe it’s better not to analyze our marriages too much?

They come to the conclusion that “love” is the “factual recognition of the state that exists” between them. They call it “love without the feeling”. And they’re pretty excited about this revelation.

We have created a whole life together despite everything. A language, a family. Some kind of understanding. An intimate knowledge of everything to do with the other person.

My favourite line: “I hate to be unromantic, but convenient placement is pretty much the definition of marital sex. I put my book down, look over to the other side of the bed, and there you are.

Join us for our next LW book in March: His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie !

17 thoughts on “#LiteraryWives: State of the Union by Nick Hornby

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    That “convenient placement” quote is one of the ones I picked out on my first read. Too funny! Good point that this reverses the usual gender dynamic of a marriage and affair. And it gives a very positive overall picture of marriage counselling (though the couple are also sort of doing their own informal sessions beforehand!).

    • Naomi says:

      Tom had quite a few lines that made me laugh. And I thought their conversations were pretty insightful and respectful for a couple so close to separation. I wouldn’t have liked it if they had been picking at each other the whole time.

  2. wadholloway says:

    I always enjoy Literary Wives posts, though I forgot to read this book. I wish I had now. When I was in my 40s the oldest daughter, teenage!, was going through some stuff and so was our marriage and she, the daughter, got us into family therapy, which I would have laughed at even a few years earlier. It worked really well, we got back together for a few years, and when living together became impossible we understood why and are still best friends.

    • Naomi says:

      It’s so good to hear a positive story about therapy! Maybe we should all go, even if we don’t think we need to.

      State of the Union is a very quick read! *hint*

  3. annelogan17 says:

    OHHH I think I’d like to read this one. I can’t remember, have you guys read Flesihman is in trouble yet? I’m watching the series on Disney+ and it’s so good! The book is awesome too, we read it in my book club long time ago (when I had a book club!)

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