Marital infidelity discovered years after the fact
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Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (copyright 2021) and The Photograph by Penelope Lively (copyright 2003) are books that I happened to read back to back. Surprisingly, they had the same plot: A found object becomes the proof of a marital infidelity, and thereby rewrites the history of the marriage. In each book, a second couple is impacted by the shocking find.
NOTE: I am not implying plagiarism at all. I am implying that the plot is not highly original.
In Good Company, Flora goes hunting for a photo taken thirteen years ago and finds not only the photo, but her husband’s wedding ring. As she well remembers, he lost it swimming in the lake during the same summer of the photo in question, so how can it be in the filing cabinet all these years later? As for the photo itself, it pictures Flora, her husband, Julian, and their daughter, Ruby, who was five years old at the time. Dear family friends, Margot and David, are also in the photo. The lives of the couples are so entangled, it is easy to wonder what Margot might know about the ring.
In The Photograph, Glyn goes hunting in a cabinet full of business papers for a document he needs professionally. He finds not only the document, but a photograph of five people. He easily recognizes Elaine, the sister of his deceased wife. He does not know the two people standing with her, facing the camera. There are also two people with their backs to the camera, holding hands in a moment of private intimacy that cannot be seen by the others, except for the photographer. When he scrutinizes the photo, he realizes that it is his late wife, Cath, holding hands with Elaine’s husband, Nick. Thanks to the Glyn’s haughty nature and Elaine’s coldness, the couples were never close, and this certainly won’t help things.
Additionally, in both books, one couple is childless and the other has one child, a daughter. I’ve already mentioned Flora’s daughter, Ruby. Elaine has a daughter too, Polly. In both books, the mother is sometimes jealous of the close bond the daughter has with the other woman.
These are such similar stories! What makes them different is that in Good Company, most of the main characters are show biz folks, working first in New York, and then in Los Angeles. So if theater lingo turns you on, this is the book for you. The Photograph, on the other hand, is set in England. Glyn is a landscape historian while Elaine is a garden designer. If you like not just plants, but the stiff upper lip of the British, this book is for you.
As for which book I liked best, there is an element in The Photograph that makes me choose it. Throughout the novel one must wonder what exactly happened to Cath? Why did she die so young? How did she die? The more Glyn and Elaine – and Polly and Nick – tell us about her, the more we see that they do not know her at all. Did anyone? So more than just the study of how infidelity impacts a marriage, the British book gives us another major question to ponder: Do we owe it to the people we love to actually know them?
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