My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Henrietta (Henny) and Samuel Pollitt both knew before they married that they never should have married, yet, bound by social convention and the need to secure a dowry, they did marry, and so, perhaps, the trajectory of their lives could only be the tragedy that plays out in this novel.
Henny and Sam’s thwarted expectations of life and marriage have repercussions beyond their individual disappointments to affect their children: Louise (Louie), Sam’s child from his halcyon first marriage, and the five children Henny subsequently bears. The children grow up in the cesspool of this bitter liaison, nurtured on their parents’ mutual violence.
I’m not entirely sure what Jonathan Franzen is talking about when he says this book is funny. Perhaps he’s referring to the moments where Henny’s threats seem like so much hyperbole, or when Sam’s baby-talk to his children descends to utter ridiculousness , but beneath that there is so much despair and narcissism, for Henny and Sam respectively, that for me every one of these moments contained a well of horror.
The Man Who Loved Children is a frightening, moving portrait of dysfunctional family life. Here, it is read by Fiona Press who, despite some distracting pronunciations of words (piahno), ensures we never wholly condemn any of the characters, even while deploring some of their actions.