WENDY HOLDEN’S REVIEW

Here is what Wendy Holden had to say about my book in the Daily Mail:

Catherine Blyth doesn’t mind tempting fate. Her first book was called The Art Of Conversation and this one is called The Art Of Marriage. May she never be caught lost for words after her other half has stormed out of the room, slamming the door.

Of course, no one knows what goes on inside another person’s marriage, any more than they know what goes on inside another person’s head.

Wisely, Blyth has held back on psychobabble and specious insight to present what is, at heart, an intellectual entertainment about wedlock. It’s a quirky kaleidoscope of quotes, anecdotes, survey results and the author’s own musings.

There are chapters on everything from adultery to in-laws to the ‘time warp’ food beloved of wedding caterers.

Blyth has a theory that wedding food is up to 15 years behind contemporary gastronomic fashion, but has to be ‘dull in order to appease the palates of toddlers and toothless Great Aunt Enid alike’.

At her own wedding, to a cheese-loving spouse, Blyth ingeniously solved the problem by having truckles of cheddar carved up ceremonially, cake-style, and distributed among guests. I learnt a great many things reading this book. That the marriage guidance service Relate reports increased business every September after couples have endured the long summer breaks.

That when ‘friends’ go on villa holidays, most of the resulting spats are between the women. That Georges Simenon’s wife used to go with him to brothels and advise him on his pick of the girls.

That Marx was anxious for his daughter to marry money. That, in the 13th-century Chinese province of Tangut, husbands customarily vacated the house when guests came to stay so the visitor could avail himself more fully of the hospitality, which included sleeping with his host’s wife, should he wish to.

The tribesmen of 1806 Missouri apparently had the same approach to guests, ‘the whole situation being enlivened by the fact that in such ramshackle huts as theirs everything was open to view’. Imagine – and 200 years before the Big Brother house.

Some of The Art Of Marriage is amusingly provocateur; in defence of infidelity, for example, Blyth points out that without it we would not have films like Casablanca or novels like Madame Bovary.

She cites a publisher moaning to an author: ‘My mistress doesn’t understand me.’ There is also advice on how to have a good affair, quoting the Kama Sutra’s advice on an easy lay (apparently jewellers’ wives, actors’ wives, old women and women always looking out on the street were usually on for it). Keep it discreet and never fall in love would seem to be the rule. So now you know.

Blyth is a former TV scriptwriter, which may explain her intensely aphoristic style. ‘All marriages are sitcoms,’ she tells us, ‘so all of us need catchphrases.’ Likewise, ‘housework makes Hercule Poirots of all couples … in that grubby trail of footprints across our freshly-mopped kitchen floor we read clues about the state of our marriage’.

She is by turns solicitous and satirical. She’s sensible and sensitive on stepchildren, say, but altogether more skittish in her concluding A-to-Z of marriage.

M is for Music, for example, and she chooses to bypass the many great musical marrieds from the Schumanns to opera singers Alagna and Gheorghiu in order to focus on Andrew Flintoff throwing his wife’s CDs out of the car window.

At the centre of Blyth’s work is the idea that marriage is ‘a hallowed dream’, essentially a spiritual and philosophical construct.

Her avowed aim is to explore whether or not it still matters to people; the answer would seem to be yes, although, as the people Blyth explores among are the past great and good and the contemporary middle classes, the social focus is narrow.

Not that the book’s any the worse for that.

On the contrary, it’s fun to read something which leaps about in lively fashion from Darwin’s list of pros and cons about marrying to the ‘things I hate about you’ lists that Anthony Armstrong-Jones left about the house for Princess Margaret.

‘One day she opened a glove drawer to read “You look like a Jewish manicurist”. They divorced.’

What struck me above all is how good a writer Blyth is with her wry, wise and lyrical style. This led me to wonder when that novel so obviously trying to get out of her will see the light of day.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “WENDY HOLDEN’S REVIEW

  1. Pegi

    It’s true, when are you going to write a novel, Ms. Blyth? I would pre-order it in an instant, as I’ve done with The Art of Marriage (which, sadly, doesn’t come out in the US until the end of this year). I can hardly stand the wait! Especially after reading this review…

    • catblyth

      Dear Pegi, I’ve only just discovered this lovely comment, due to preghead techonolexia. Thank you so much for the kind words. I’m working on the novel — and the baby (seven weeks to go). All best Catherine

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