Novels about marital relationships don’t usually excite me much but the premise of The Silent Treatment was intriguing.
Frank and Maggie have been married for more than 40 years. But for the last six months, Frank has not uttered a single word to his wife. They’ve shared the same house, and even the same bed, and eaten meals together. But all without speaking.
What triggered this silent treatment? An argument (must have been one hell of a row to still be festering after six months) ? A medical condition rendering incapable of speech?
It takes almost the whole of the novel for us to discover the reason in this accomplished debut by Abbie Greaves.
A Marriage In Retrospect
But first we learn about the history of their marriage, its delights and its sorrows.
Frank goes first, reminiscing about the heady, ecstatic days of their early life together. He’d always been a bit of a loner, never much of a hit with girls, but as soon as he saw Maggie, he knew she was the girl of his dreams. Unbelievably (to him) his feelings were reciprocated.
The one blot on their marriage is that the child Maggie longs for, never materialises. They learn to live with the loss and Maggie’s bouts of depression. But then completely out of the blue, she is pregnant, and their life is made complete by a daughter who is bright, intelligent and a joy. Until she hits her teenage years that is, and goes completely off the rails, causing untold pain and anguish for her parents.
Confession Propelled by Tragedy
We learn this only because out of necessity Frank has started to talk to Maggie. There’s still no conversation. There can’t be because Maggie is in a coma, the result of an overdose of sleeping pills. Frank found her collapsed unconscious at the kitchen table.
Terrified that she may die before he has a chance to explain his silence, he knows he has to explain his silence. He’s always been a quiet man, one who finds it difficult to express his emotions. “Talking has never been my strong point, “he admits.
His task now involves such a painful confession he can get there only in small stages, starting right at the beginning. He’d been on the point of revealing everything to Maggie once before when his guilt was “so pure, so overwhelming”. But he chickened out when he saw her, a shadow of her former self and knew he couldn’t do cause her any more harm.
I opened my mouth a million times and God knows you must have noticed. I thought maybe once the shock had worn off it would be easier. But that never happened. It just got harder and harder… I told myself I had time to find the right way to say it. I wanted a way to tell you the truth without risking you leaving me…
Time Running Out
But now that time is rapidly eroding. Two hours before the doctors will decide they can do no more for his wife. Will he make it before it’s too late?
Abbie Greaves keeps up the suspense throughout the whole of Frank’s narratives, with plenty of hints to keep us guessing. To delay the resolution still further, she switches to Maggie’s perspective, told through a series of notes she’s left for her husband to read after her death.
It’s through Maggie’s version of events over the last six months, that we can fully appreciate Frank was not the only partner who had left things unsaid.
As a deeply intimate but also realistic portrait of a relationship, The Silent Treatment is a success. At times delightful, it’s also heartbreakingly sad as it shows the utter devotion of a couple crack under the strain of a wayward child.
The suspense element didn’t work as well for me. I found Frank’s anguished comments hinting at the catastrophic nature of his revelation, set up a huge expectation in my mind. The disclosure of the secret was ultimately a disappointment. I remember reading it and thinking: Is that all? If there hadn’t been such a build up I would have accepted the ending far more readily.
Despite that I still enjoyed the novel’s exploration of love, loss, grief and guilt. It will be interesting to see her next novel.
The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves: Endnotes
The Silent Treatment was published on 2 April in hardback by Century.
Abbie Greaves worked in publishing for three years after leaving university. She wrote her debut novel while working as an assistant to a literary agent in London. She currently lives in Edinburgh, Scotland where she is working on her new novel, The Ends of The Earth.
My thanks to Century for an advance copy of The Silent Treatment. Explore other bloggers on the book tour organised by Anne Cater at Random Book Tours