I started writing A Better Man as my first marriage was falling apart, and by the time I finished a first draft I had a new husband and a six-month old baby. So while I really had no idea what I was writing about starting out, I say by the time I finished I had learned something about marriage and parenthood.
The idea for the book came from a girlfriend who told me about a lawyer who advised her the best way to lay the ground work for divorce is to pretend to be the ideal spouse for about six months before jumping ship. Apparently this guy advised all his clients to do this. Needless to say, I did not follow this advice with my own failed marriage. That story was much more haphazard and typical. We did about six months of couples therapy and then I sat on the sofa with a bottle of wine and cried for a year. Somehow during that time I met my current husband and got pregnant — bye bye wine! – and now here I am, the contented beneficiary of a totally unplanned life.
I think I was attracted to idea of Nick’s scheme – cynical as it is – because I have never been much good at planning myself. I never know how things are going to work out, and when it comes to matters of the heart I am almost pathetically optimistic. I liked the idea of imagining what it was like to not be that way. To be methodical and pragmatic and controlled – even if the aim was entirely selfish.
And like Maya, I enjoy a good regime. I believe – despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary – that we all have the power to change ourselves for the better by going on a six day juice cleanse or resolving to master headstand in yoga. I think the reason I persist in this never-ending cycle of self-improvement (resolve-persist-succumb-resolve) is that I am certain that even our smallest actions can fundamentally change the nature of our character. In essence, I believe that you are what you do, even if you didn’t particularly want to do it in the first place. This, I think, is the lesson Nick learns from his plan in the end. He fails, but in a way that makes his life inexorably better. He is forced to surrender and part with everything he was initially motivated to hold onto for dear life – and in a funny way, this saves him.
I don’t want to give too much away, as I have no idea if you’ve read the book yet. But if you do I hope you will take something good and real away with you. Not a moral exactly, or even a regime. But maybe just the hope that real change is possible – even if the plan falls apart.
A Better Man is our book of the month for August, and is published today by Corvus.