Today’s guest, author Sophie Hannah, shares the story of a friend’s troubled marriage and how it echoes the fictional marriage in her new novel, THE CARRIER.
Everyone who’s attended a wedding is familiar with the question: ‘If anybody present knows of any reason why this man and woman should not be joined in matrimony, please declare it now.’ It’s the cue for us wedding guests to ignore any and all misgivings that don’t directly involve a mad, purple-faced wife concealed in the attic, and, yes, I do blame Jane Eyre for our communal inability to recognize any danger that isn’t a rampant pyromaniac in a lacy nightgown.
I was a witness at a male friend’s wedding five years ago. When it came to that part of the ceremony, I shamefully said nothing, because, after all, no one was locked in an attic. Silently, I was screaming, ‘Nooo! Don’t marry her!’ After the ceremony, we went to a local hotel for lunch and a swim. It was a small wedding party: five of us in total. Once we’d left the pool, it became apparent to the three witnesses that the bride and groom had disappeared. I assumed they’d snuck off to canoodle, but when they reappeared, the groom, my friend, had obviously been crying. Later, I asked him what was wrong. ‘She screamed at me and called me a motherf***er,’ he said, sounding baffled. ‘She regrets marrying me, doesn’t want to have kids with me and thinks we’re a bad match. I don’t know what I’ve done wrong.’ He shrugged miserably.
‘Didn’t you ask?’ I said.
‘Yep, but…I still don’t understand,’ he admitted. ‘I suggested going for a walk after our swim, and she told me to go on my own because she was exhausted and needed to sleep for a bit. So I went, but apparently I should have known she didn’t really want to sleep. What she really wanted was for me not to go for a walk.’
‘So…she expected you to guess her preferences, then punished you for guessing incorrectly?’
It was a question I eventually stopped asking. The answer was distressingly obvious: punishing him for being neither perfect nor psychic was her hobby. Once, in a pub, she savaged him because he’d ordered a pudding that wasn’t the one she wanted, although minutes earlier she’d insisted she didn’t want anything. Another time she publicly berated him for buying her an art book. ‘He bought it because he thought it was interesting,’ she snapped. ‘Whenever he buys me presents, they’re things he wants that I have no interest in.’ (It turned out that she wasn’t interested in anything apart from her work, which she obsessed over for nearly twenty hours a day, ignoring him while he cooked her dinner every night, alone in their kitchen.) ‘Next time a charity comes collecting, I’m giving that stupid book to them!’ she threatened.
Once, while he was at the top of a ladder trimming tree branches, she took exception to his method and started to shake the ladder, and he very nearly fell from a considerable height. She occasionally hit him, punched him, pushed him, told him she wouldn’t care at all if he slept with other women. Eventually – luckily for my friend – she judged him so disappointing that she ended the relationship. He was gutted, as we so often are when the compassionless dullard we’ve erroneously set up home with finally liberates us, and trudges off to ruin someone else’s life; it’s so easy to think that the unhappiness that is presently ours is the happiest we’re ever likely to be. ‘I’ve spent the last few months wishing you’d die in a car accident,’ she told him, ‘so that we wouldn’t have to go through this break-up.’ She was considerate like that.
If I could turn back the clock, I’d speak up in response to the registrar’s Jane Eyre question. ‘This wedding shouldn’t happen, because if it does then one day this woman will force my friend to dress up as a hobbit and attend a fancy dress party,’ I would say – and save my friend a great deal of hobbit humiliation as well as five years of misery.
* * *
When Gaby’s plane is delayed, she’s forced to share a hotel room with a stranger: Lauren, who is terrified of her. But why is she scared of Gaby in particular? Lauren won’t explain. Instead, she blurts out something about an innocent man going to prison for murder. Gaby soon suspects that Lauren’s presence on her flight isn’t a coincidence, because the murder victim is Francine Breary, the wife of the only man Gaby has ever truly loved.
Tim Breary has confessed. He’s even provided the police with evidence. The only thing he hasn’t given them is a motive. He claims to have no idea why he murdered his wife…