Hilary Mantel

It Can be Happy

The Oxford Book of Marriage

By Helge Rubinstein

OUP 383pp £15 order from our bookshop

In my capacity as unpaid agony aunt and telephone counsellor I have discovered this truth: all marriages are exactly alike. No matter what the previous disposition of the partners, something in the nature of marriage produces conformity, turns out Husbands and Wives as if from a mould. The British Standard Marriage, for example, can be characterised in a few words, and those few short and simple. All Wives think themselves oppressed. They cannot fold maps, and sometimes burst noisily into tears during the Cup Final. All Husbands are surly brutes with the emotional repertoire of stick insects; they crave gravy and other low forms of food, and persistently throw their dirty linen into the ironing basket. There may be exceptions to these rules, but they are so few that they are not worth recording.

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