04 December 2007

The volatility of relationships

“Marriages collapsed for all sorts of reasons, but presumably you never really knew why unless you were involved in one.”

The above quote from William Trevor’s novella ‘Reading Turgenev’ (in ‘Two Lives’) may explain why I, at 48 years of age, am still at a loss as to why my parents decided to separate after 29 years of married life. In those 29 years, something had gone wrong in their relationship, perhaps even brewed over many years, before my parents came to the conclusion that they were no longer compatible as a married couple, and decided to part ways.

This reality, this happening, this incompatibility in marriages and man-woman relationships has always haunted me. Although I have felt alone in my inability to understand it, I have often found similar sentiments in contemporary literature. For, I have found, much of today’s literary fiction deals with this very theme of incompatibility in marriages and in relationships between men and women. In fact, in the works of two of my favourite authors, this is a common occurrence.

Many novels and short stories of Irish author William Trevor are apt examples of this theme. Perhaps more so are the novels of Czech writer Milan Kundera. Whereas Trevor adopts a gentle style in his narrative (such as in ‘Reading Turgenev’), presenting bittersweet love stories or mismatched couples, Kundera’s novels (such as ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’) are hard-hitting existentialist tales built on egos and ignorance.

While Trevor narrates stories of ordinary people in unhappy marriages, in passive acceptance of the situations they are in, Kundera clinically lays bare every relationship, comparing and blending the philosophical aspects with the carnal. When Trevor offers us relationships marred by infidelities or deceit, we are wooed as much by the romance as we are by the grief experienced by the protagonists. With Kundera’s novels, where infidelities and misunderstandings abound, we are sucked in (and sometimes repelled) by the rigours of the man-woman relationships.

While Trevor’s novels and short stories appeal to our softer senses, touching upon tender emotions in a quiet manner, Kundera’s appeal is a churning of cold rationality with the raw sexuality that his characters experience.

Perhaps, marriages, and man-woman relationships, are a combination of all these traits and experiences – and are, therefore, more volatile than what they seem from the outside. Only those involved have knowledge of their relationship’s strength or frailty.

No comments: