Monday, April 04, 2011

The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

"Had she known this was happening to her, she would have been shocked, for she was not the kind of person to be frequently overcome by anything. Common colds had rarely felled Marissa Clayborn; sad movies tended to leave her tearless. Yet when the spell came for her, she was as susceptible as the rest of them."
The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer is the story of what happens when the new drama teacher at Stellar Plans High School chooses Lysistrata- a comedy by Aristophanes in which women stop having sex with men in order to end a war- as the latest school production. Coincidentally, a strange spell becomes cast of the females in the high school community so that they to stop having sex leaving their husbands and boyfriends puzzled. Both sides become confused over what is going on, but the lack of sex has an unexpected impact on all of the lives it touches.

Before I picked up The Uncoupling I decided to read Lysistrata so I'd know what the novel was referencing. Although reading the classic play first is definitely not necessary, it's a quick and funny read and I'd certainly recommend it so that the discussion of it is easy to understand. Although Wolitzer uses Lysistrata as inspiration for her novel, her story has nothing to do with war, or the voluntary turning away that the women in the play do. That was the most distinct differences for me, women in Lysistrata choose not to have sex, while women in The Uncoupling have no desire for it. Wolitzer uses this premise to address questions about the role of sex in a relationship and clearly shows the relevance that a play written so long ago can still have.

The Uncoupling has a sense of humour, although I would not call the book particularly funny, it is more that the situations the characters are in at times is so absurd and their reactions so human that as a reader you can't help but smile. I also found it intelligent, the novel is not particularly serious but Wolitzer writes with a mature wit and clear understanding of human interactions and feelings. Some of the issues Wolitzer delves into include what relationships really mean to a person, what value they have, and how they change when sex is no longer a part of them. Reflecting on life without a partner, once character says:
"When you were on your own in life, even a short car trip with a dish beside you became a concern. If you had a steady boyfriend beside you, however, you just handed him the dish and said “Here”, and he sat with it on his big lap, or else you sat with it on your lap while he drove you to your shared destination."
The Uncoupling is a light but enjoyable read with a slightly mystical feel which would be a great book for a time you want to relax. The premise itself was interesting and relevant although the spell itself was my least favourite part of the novel. The message that Wolitzer seems to be trying to send through causing the characters to give up sex because of a spell was expected and not that exciting- sex is an important part of a healthy relationship. Although I did appreciate the hint of whimsy that the spell brings into the world Wolitzer created, I never really felt like I believed in her reality and the result was that I was often distanced from that aspect of the story and at times even found it silly. Fortunately, this hindrance was made up for by the strong characters Wolitzer created and her ability to perfectly capture the suburban world where they live. The novel has a slow-start but it gives the reader an opportunity to learn the backstory of the characters involved which makes you more invested in them working things out in the end. Overall, although I wasn't won over by the premise of the novel I loved Wolitzer's writing and the realistic characters which made The Uncoupling an enjoyable experience.

Release Date: April 5th, 2011
Pages: 288
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

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