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Review: I Give My Marriage A Year by Holly Wainwright

on September 4, 2020

I Give My Marriage A Year 
Holly Wainwright
Pan Macmillan AUS
2020, 432p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

How far would you go to save your marriage?

Lou and Josh have been together for 14 years. They share two kids, a mortgage, careers and plenty of history. Now, after a particularly fraught Christmas, Lou is ready to ask herself: is this marriage worth hanging on to?

Every month for a year, Lou sets a different test for their relationship – from daily sex to brutal honesty – to help her decide if she should stay or go. Secrets are exposed, old wounds reopened and a true-to-life suburban love story unfolds.

I Give My Marriage a Year paints a sharply accurate, often hilarious picture of a modern Australian marriage. Lou and Josh are a couple on the edge, and their efforts to bring their relationship back from the brink will resonate with anyone who has ever asked themselves: is this enough?

Whose side will you take? Who deserves a second chance? And will Josh and Lou stay together or split for good?

I have some complex feelings about this book. I found it quite a hard read – it was difficult to read two people in such a bad place and watching pretty much one person punish another, whether intentionally or not, was definitely difficult.

Lou and Josh have been together or married for fourteen years and they have two children, around 8 & 5. Lou is a teacher and Josh wanted to be a musician but fell into carpentry to pay the bills and he’s still doing it, all these years later. They have a lot of the usual pressures of those who are married with children and living in Sydney – financial, distribution of the emotional load, differences in what they want out of life, especially now. It feels like Lou has really hit a wall – after being Josh’s wife for so long, she’s wondering if she wants to go another fourteen years being his wife and then another fourteen years after that and etc. Plus they have something that they’ve never really dealt with, a decision they made a few years ago that Lou is struggling with, that she blames Josh for and she’s been pushing him in certain ways ever since. Whether she realises that’s what she’s doing or not, it’s basically what it boils down to. And Josh, although he has come to know about it, has chosen to bury his head in the sand about it and refuse to really acknowledge it or discuss it. Lou makes a decision on New Year’s Day, that she’ll give the marriage a year, trying a different thing each month to help try and resurrect it. And if she still feels the same at the end of the year, she’ll let the marriage go.

My problem started with Lou making this decision, despite what she was doing, or had been doing, at the time. Also the first choice she makes is for them to have sex every day, despite the fact that she seems to really not want Josh to touch her and it has to happen every day. No matter what. Josh also doesn’t know she’s doing the whole ‘giving my marriage a year’ thing at first and he’s sort of dragged along on a ride that he doesn’t really know has an end date/destination.

Both Lou and Josh have made a lot of mistakes and have some significant flaws in how they approach things but man did I find it hard to connect with or sympathise with Lou. I think because of the way she reacted after the issue revolving around that decision they made a few years ago. I couldn’t really get on board with that and I found myself strongly resenting her as a character because of the choices she made. She had a lot of opportunities to stop what she was doing and she chose not to, and perhaps you could argue that she punishing herself as well as Josh, for both the decision and her reaction to it but it made me look at her and think why are you doing this and also, why are you even still married? There are times when it seems like she really can’t bear Josh and the whole ‘I give my marriage a year’ thing feels honestly, more like she’s torturing him than anything else. It actually felt like Lou checked out a little while ago and the year is just dragging out something. Josh always makes it very clear that he loves Lou, that all he wants is to be married to her and nothing else. He’s not a perfect husband by far – and it takes him a very long time to realise how much of the emotional load Lou carries in their lives, regarding both the home and the girls and this is often a very common gripe in marriages. A lot of the ins and outs of the life of people married with children fall to the women and they know things – the precise schedule of their children, what items they need from the grocery store, when the shower needs to be cleaned, etc whereas men, even if they’re more than willing to pull 50/50 need to be told what to do, rather than just seeing something and doing it. This is Lou’s constant complaint about Josh. He will say to her “what can I do to help” which infuriates her because telling him is just one more thing that she has to do. But I sort of also felt like hey, fourteen years has gone past and you haven’t sat down and had a conversation about this? About how Josh needs to really familiarise himself with the ins and outs of what it takes to maintain a busy home life with two children. Lou is one of the “it’s just easier if I do it myself but then I’ll complain about it because I’ve had to do it all myself”. I also felt the way her mother treated Josh was absolutely appalling and Lou was no where near as supportive of her husband as she should’ve been, nor did she dress her mother down enough when she was horrifically rude to him. It’s okay not want something different, to not want the suburban house with the backyard. It’s okay to not have a fancy city career as well. Annabelle was a horrible person, be it to her own children or their partners. What she said to Josh at his own birthday was inexcusable and the attempts to justify it quite pathetic.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really buy into the ending of this. It just didn’t seem logical to me, after everything that had happened and been revealed. I also think the book didn’t really take the opportunity to showcase the effects of this “year” on the children either. I feel as though this was very well written, because it elicited  a strong emotional response from me and it honestly felt like I was in the middle of this miserable marriage and I could see and feel very well how the characters were feeling. But I didn’t enjoy the experience, to be honest. I hated almost everyone in the end, I didn’t actually feel like I was rooting for Josh and Lou to stay a couple. I couldn’t see it. Actually, I didn’t want to see it, after everything they’d done to each other. I did not feel supportive or connected.


Book #171 of 2020

I Give My Marriage A Year is book #63 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

One response to “Review: I Give My Marriage A Year by Holly Wainwright

  1. Yeah…no. Definitely not one for me right now…LOL!

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