Memories of a Marriage: A Novel by Louis Begley, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Memories of a Marriage: A Novel

Memories of a Marriage: A Novel

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by Louis Begley
     
 

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From the author of Wartime Lies and About Schmidt, an irresistibly entertaining novel about a man struggling to understand his friends' seemingly charmed marriage, which may have been doomed from the start.

In the unforgiving class system of the 1950s, Lucy de Bourgh, daughter of one of Rhode Island's first families and beneficiary of an

Overview

From the author of Wartime Lies and About Schmidt, an irresistibly entertaining novel about a man struggling to understand his friends' seemingly charmed marriage, which may have been doomed from the start.

In the unforgiving class system of the 1950s, Lucy de Bourgh, daughter of one of Rhode Island's first families and beneficiary of an ample trust fund, was married to Thomas Snow, son of a Newport garage owner and his bookkeeper wife. It hardly mattered that Thomas was a graduate of Harvard Business School, or that he went to work for a great Wall Street firm and succeeded beyond expectations. In Lucy's eyes, he remained irremediably a "townie." Decades later, a chance meeting brings Lucy together with Philip, our narrator. They'd known each other earlier, and he remembers her as a ravishing, funny, ready-for-anything hellion with a well-earned reputation for generosity with sexual favors. He also remembers Thomas, killed in a freak accident years after his and Lucy's divorce, and is shocked to hear Lucy refer to Thomas insistently as "that monster." How is he to reconcile that unexpected and overflowing reservoir of bitterness and resentments with his own memories? Almost against his will, Philip sets out on a quest that soon becomes an obsession to discover who exactly these friends were whom he had understood so incompletely, and what happened in their marriage. Through Philip's patient probing, a brilliant portrait emerges of Begley's heroine: infinitely complex, irresistible as well as insufferable, capable of extremes of arrogance and submission, and driven by sexual appetites she cannot control. Lucy de Bourgh is without doubt one of Begley's strongest and most outrageous creations.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Meg Wolitzer
…engrossing…Louis Begley gives us a chance to see into two different, often obscured worlds. One is the most private recesses of another couple's marriage. The other is high-WASP society—though most people don't usually even know where that particular unmarked door is, let alone get a chance to have it quietly shut in their faces…The pleasures of this novel reside not so much in where the "truth" lies as in its context. The world of the highly entitled at play and at work—seen traveling the globe over the decades, installing themselves in European hotels and joining exclusive men's clubs and marrying into families made up of "very much our kind of people"—remains irresistible.
Publishers Weekly
In this compact, voyeuristic novel, Begley (About Schmidt) creates his latest larger-than-life character in the beguiling but sharp-tongued socialite Lucy De Bourgh. During the spring of 2003, elderly narrator Phillip, a successful literary novelist, is attending the New York City Ballet when he bumps into Lucy, an old friend and occasional lover from his carefree days in 1950s Paris. A striking beauty and wealthy Rhode Island blueblood, Lucy charmed with her personality and humor and disregarded Eisenhower-era mores with her easy sexuality. Lucy now seems bitter, however, and shocks Phillip by calling her late ex, Thomas Snow, a “monster.” Although coming from blue-collar roots, Thomas attended Harvard, made his fortune as a savvy investment banker, and after the divorce, died in a boating accident. A lonely widower, Phillip becomes fascinated with Lucy and Thomas’s divorce, perhaps seeing a future novel in their breakup. Possibly, though, he just finds titillation in Lucy’s sensational past. Begley’s effortless storytelling will have readers equally fascinated by Lucy and Phillips’s complex, tangled relationship. Agent: Georges Borchardt, George Borchardt Inc. (July)
From the Publisher
"This delicious, dazzling novel about the rise and fall of a great American debutante kept me up all night. Begley knows everything about the secret lives of the American aristocracy, and he tells all." —Susan Cheever

"Absorbing ... [Begley] tells this tale with all the archness — and yearning — of a voyeur looking in ... His evocations of glistening mahogany in New York’s club rooms, of summering in the Hamptons, of oysters and whiting at the Paris Savoy have the clear ring of truth. He has observed the relevant mannerisms, and he garnishes his scenes with all the glee of a name-dropping arriviste ... Begley proves he is a master dissector of the American character. Among contemporary novelists, he may be the wryest, most devastating critic of class in American society ... Begley delivers a literary stiletto to what Tiffany or Crate & Barrel might blithely call 'the Gatsby set' ... Read it and weep." —Marie Arana, The Washington Post

"[E]ngrossing ... Begley gives us a chance to see into two different, often obscured worlds. One is the most private recesses of another couple’s marriage. The other is high-WASP society — though most people don’t usually even know where that particular unmarked door is, let alone get a chance to have it quietly shut in their faces ... The pleasures of this novel reside not so much in where the 'truth' lies as in its context. The world of the highly entitled at play and at work — seen traveling the globe over the decades, installing themselves in European hotels and joining exclusive men’s clubs and marrying into families made up of 'very much our kind of people' — remains irresistible." Meg Wolitzer, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] consummately constructed monument to human imperfection." —San Francisco Chronicle

"In this compact, voyeuristic novel, Begley creates his latest larger-than-life character in the beguiling but sharp-tongued socialite Lucy De Bourgh ... Begley’s effortless storytelling will have readers...fascinated by Lucy and Phillips’s complex, tangled relationship." Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A fiendishly clever, Fitzgeraldesque tale about marriage, friendship, gossip, and self-justification ... Begley, marvelously droll and possessed of a rapier wit, revels in his mercurial characters, intricate psychological puzzles, unreliable memories, counterintuitive class divisions, and all the mysteries and miseries of lust and love."Booklist

"Sharply observed and subtly nuanced ... It could pass as a novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s later decades, if Fitzgerald had lived so long."Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
In this latest glimpse of the upper-crust terrain Begley knows so well (About Schmidt), a chance encounter at the ballet sends Philip on a book-long inquiry into the mental health and veracity of seventyish former debutante Lucy de Bourgh, the daughter of one of Rhode Island's first families. Philip, a successful novelist and the story's narrator, had known Lucy in their richly privileged youth, when she was a bit of a wildcat, promiscuous even. Lucy surprised all by marrying Thomas Snow, the Harvard- and London School of Economics-educated son of a garage owner and a bookkeeper. Thomas would become ultrarich, a world-renowned banker, but after the marriage failed, Lucy portrayed him as a social climber and "monster" (sexually, it seems). Philip, who knew Thomas well, tries to determine the truth; Lucy's erratic behavior should tip him off more than it does, especially when all other characters, including a well-centered second wife, see Thomas as kind and thoughtful. The "monster" question is ultimately never settled; at end as at beginning, it's all about egomaniac Lucy. VERDICT For ardent Fitzgeraldian Auchinclossians: take with caviar, Veuve Clicquot, a fine cigar, and white gloves for the ladies, please.—Robert E. Brown, Oswego, NY
The Washington Post - Maire Arana
"Begley proves he is a master dissector of the American character."
Kirkus Reviews
Autumn turns to winter in this novel about an author of the novelist's own generation, who reflects upon (among other things) the complex relationships between fiction and life, memory and truth. The latest from the venerable Begley (Schmidt Steps Back, 2012, etc.) lacks the scope and dark humor of his multivolume "Schmidtie" saga, but it is nonetheless as sharply observed and subtly nuanced as most of his writing in its focus on class distinctions and destiny among the Eastern elite. It could pass as a novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald's later decades, if Fitzgerald had lived so long. Its protagonist is Philip, an author of previously greater note, a widower who dearly misses his late wife, who was also a writer. Attending a ballet, he runs into an heiress whose reputation was compromised by her wild, erratic streak and whose ex-husband had died in an accident after a divorce that still left her bitter. Her name is Lucy, and Philip had once slept with her, which seems like a minor plot detail, because everyone had. The bulk of the narrative finds Lucy telling her version of her troubled courtship with and marriage to Thomas Snow, who was then her social inferior but later eclipsed her as a renowned businessman and economist. Both their son and the younger, prettier woman Thomas married after divorcing Lucy provide far different perspectives on the relationship, and those conflicting memories obsess Philip, who wants to fill in the blanks, untwist the contradictions and likely even write a novel with this marriage as raw material. (Perhaps even this very novel that Begley has written?) "But the book would be a novel," he assures Lucy, "not a memoir or reportage...a mosaic, made of slivers of glass or stone, some picked up as I went along and some I had fabricated." Since most of this novel is narrated through paraphrase--the protagonist's spin on what he heard the other characters say--the reader must decide how much he can trust the narrator, a man in despair over "the utter futility of my existence, the books I was writing included." Less interesting as a novel than as insight into the mind of a novelist.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385537469
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/09/2013
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
822,426
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 8.42(h) x 0.96(d)

Meet the Author

LOUIS BEGLEY's previous novels are Schmidt Steps Back, Matters of Honor, Shipwreck, Schmidt Delivered, Mistler's Exit, About Schmidt, As Max Saw It, The Man Who Was Late, and Wartime Lies, which won the Hemingway/PEN award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. His work has been translated into eighteen languages.

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