Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she’s his perfect match, and she loves his son like he is her own. When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. Desperate for that happy-ever-after, he ignores it—a dangerous mistake that could cost him everything.
When I read the blurb of ‘A Suitable Lie’ I just knew that I wanted to read it. Michael J. Malone’s novel paints a shocking and compelling portrait of a subject that so often gets brushed under the carpet: spousal abuse where the male partner is actually the victim. I particularly enjoyed its setting in the west of Scotland, where telling your pals that you’re being terrorised by your petite, beautiful wife is not something that’s easily shared over a pint…
It’s almost impossible to review this book with no spoilers at all, but I’ll try and minimise them as it’s really a book that you should uncover for yourself. I found full immersion in this book frighteningly easy and I literally lost myself for a whole winter Sunday afternoon devouring it. I was captivated by a setting which felt so familiar – yet a theme which felt so shocking. Male spousal abuse is still a taboo subject and Andy’s situation reveals the reality of this this in vivid and brutal detail.
Michael J. Malone has discussed witnessing a colleague’s experience of being given a black eye by his wife, describing the way the whole thing was treated by his workmates – as if it was a huge joke. It is this sad truth that Andy is up against: how can he tell even his closest family members what he is going through without feeling wholly unmanned ? Michael J. Malone’s interview also reveals that research explains how society often views women’s violence against their male partner as “understandable, pardonable and sometimes humorous”. Compare this with how we view men who batter their wives and you begin to see a disturbing picture of what exactly Andy is up against…
Domestic Noir is an increasingly popular genre – with more and more ‘grip lit’ being churned out by the week. This novel is about as far from one of these ‘thriller-by-numbers’ as it’s possible to get. This is an intelligent read with a male protagonist that actually feels real. As Andy’s life begins to disintegrate we care because Andy seems like a real person – not a narrative trope that we’ve read a million times before. Malone’s gift is undoubtedly to take real settings and twist them horribly so that we begin to see how easily brutality and cruelty lurk beneath even the prettiest of facades. It makes for a compelling read.
‘A Suitable Lie’ is so effective as we really do begin reading it so damn hopeful for Andy. After the sadness of being widowed, we hope – like he does – that meeting Anna is the start of a happy new chapter in his life: a second chance. I turned the pages with increasing dread, realising with growing horror – just as Andy does – that not only has he married someone that he doesn’t really know, he’s also married someone whose warped sense of love is going to affect him in ways he cannot even imagine.
Andy’s strength as a character is that he feels just like someone you know: the bloke round the corner, the guy that fixed your car, your friend’s dad. His deterioration over the course of the novel is actually painful to witness as Michael J. Malone makes his marital descent into hell absolutely convincing down to the smallest detail. We are left reeling with shock thinking ‘How did that happen?’ at some of the early episodes of abuse and the dread, shame and claustrophobia that Andy feels as they increase in violence and depravity are extremely realistically portrayed – so much so that it definitely does make for uncomfortable reading . Our relationship with Andy is so well developed that this book is genuinely unputdownable and Malone never lets us forget for a second that there but for the grace of God goes someone just like ourself – there are plenty of Annas out there, behaving just like this and just as many Andys who’ve ‘walked into a door’ over the weekend as their female equivalents…
Anna was a fascinating character that compels the reader whilst at the same time Malone never allows us to lose sight of the awful things that she is capable of. I think that novels about ‘bad’ female characters are sometimes weakened by overt attempts on the writer’s part to ‘explain’ their behaviour away because of their ‘traumatic backstory’.‘A Suitable Lie’ succeeds as it’s Andy’s story that remains at the forefront and his very real anguish that remains with us long after closing the final page.
After finishing ‘A Suitable Lie’ I was ashamed to reflect that male Spousal Abuse wasn’t a subject that I’d ever thought very much about before and I was shocked to discover that the statistics behind the story speak for themselves: Malone’s ‘Guardian’ article reveals that domestic violence is equally likely to happen to men and women: 4.2% of both male and female respondents said they’d experienced domestic abuse from a current or previous partner in the preceding year.
These statistics are genuinely shocking and make Andy’s fictional tale all the more poignant and resonant. It’s certainly opened my eyes to a ‘Suitable Lie’ in modern Britain: that females are the victims and men the perpetrators. Andy’s predicament clearly shows the additional barriers posed to male victims – in that society expects them to be the strong, capable partner and that revealing any other narrative can be extremely difficult. Andy’s close relationship with his family is skilfully chipped away just as effectively as any male ‘abusive partner’ has done in more familiar storylines and his helplessness and isolation are just as moving, perhaps even more so…
I can see this being a novel that I’ll be begging other people to read. It would make a fabulous book group choice as I feel that it could promote really interesting discussions about preconceived gender roles, maleness, abuse and family attitudes to privacy. I was totally engrossed from start to finish and could not go to sleep until I found out how it ended. There’s no higher recommendation really.
Thank you to lovely Karen Sullivan at @OrendaBooks for providing me with a copy in return for a fair review. It’s such a gorgeous looking book and even if I’m a bit biased, I think it looks fab in my #OnTheShelfie. Karen has been an amazing Twitter buddy. It has been great to trade GIFS and jokes as well as picking up some fab booktips from her this winter. I absolutely wish I was going to this:
But if you get the chance – definitely do! This lineup looks amazing! And you’ll get to hear Michael J. Malone talking about his fab book in person.
A further insight into some of the issues explored in this novel can be gained in the article below:
Michael Malone was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult, maybe.
He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In-Residence for an adult gift shop. Don’t ask.
BLOOD TEARS, his debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers and when it was published he added a “J” to his name to differentiate it from the work of his talented U.S. namesake.
He is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website www.crimesquad.com and his blog, May Contain Nuts.