The Couples by Lauren Mackenzie | Book Reviews | General Fiction
The Couples by Lauren Mackenzie

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

The Couples by Lauren Mackenzie

The Couples by Lauren Mackenzie is published with John Murray and is described by Donal Ryan as ‘a blockbuster in waiting‘.

Three couples head off on a trip together to celebrate a 48th birthday. One night away without children, one night where they can let their hair down and relive their youth without guilt or regret. That was the plan, but what happened was an implosion of relationships and friendships, an unexpected shifting of the scales in this beautiful and evocative read.

‘The first time Eva saw Shay, it was at a rave on an eco-farm in Leitrim where he was working. He was twenty-two, she was a year older. With or without drugs, he bounced around like Tigger, smiling, always happy.’ Now married with twins, Ella and Katie, Eva is a school teacher and Shay is a landscaper. Like all couples they have financial constraints but they manage along, going through the motions of daily living, with routines and budgeting and managing to make ends meet. Since the financial crash, the media was full of depressing news and a night away, without children, with their best friends, was an unexpected and exciting prospect.

Bea and Conor seem to have it all. A glamorous couple with a lovely home they have one child, Fiach and Jaro, their Jack Russell. Their life runs like clockwork with Bea at the helm. Bea has always been organised which was part of the attraction when Conor met her six years previously. Their ‘home was a two-storey over-basement Georgian terrace on Grantham Street; the renovation cost nearly as much as the house and the repayments continued to be a strain every month. And now the house was only worth half what they’d spent on it.’

Lizzie and Frank – ‘they used to be the kind of couple that took risks, scoffed at rules, leaned into the dark. And now they were middle-aged, monogamous and mortgaged. the only thing they’d avoided was marriage but they were as good as, just fools for denying themselves the wedding party and the presents.’ They have four children between them. Georgia and Jimmy, nine and six, with Lizzie having a daughter, Maya, now fifteen, from a previous relationship and Frank a son, Jack, of a similar age. Frank is a frustrated film-maker with a career that never really took off. Now it’s his forty-eighth birthday and his friends are insisting on a party to mark the occasion. Frank is broke and despondent but he acquiesces to this night away as his friends offer it as a birthday present, a treat to mark the occasion. Once upon a time, Lizzie had been an actor with great potential, but her career stalled when her personal life got complicated.

On arriving at Hardwood House, an old country estate in Co. Laois, the three couples have dinner with the host and then set off to the local where things take a very unexpected turn. After a few drinks, inhibitions are loosened and Frank makes a suggestion that the six mix things up a little. He introduces a party game, with ‘no obligations or no expectations’, one involving partners swapping. It is meant as a joke, a bit of fun but as the following morning rolls around, the reality of what may or may not have happened threatens to destroy the friendship. Are all parties guilty of crossing a line? Does what goes on tour stay on tour? Can the three couples rescue their relationships?

The Couples by Lauren MackenzieThe Couples is a wonderful tapestry of interconnected lives and the implications for all when things get complicated. It’s a book described by the Irish Times as ‘Normal People for married people’ which really is a very apt description. Lauren Mackenzie’s observations on relationships, family and married life are all wonderfully depicted. There is humour mingling in close proximity with high drama. There is a sadness for times lost and a fear for what lies ahead. Life is complicated at the best of times but for Eva, Shane, Bea, Conor, Lizzie and Frank, they have all reached a threshold and are now confused, pained, angered and grieving for what was and what could have been. Beautifully rendered from the opening pages, The Couples is a wistful, smart and acutely-observed read, a novel that lingers long after the final pages are turned. It really would make an outstanding stage-play!

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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