I hadn’t heard of Rosie Wilby before her book Is Monogamy Dead? landed on my desk. That sounds so quaint. Let’s be honest, the book was sent to me via email and I forwarded it to my Kindle so that I could read it at my leisure. Welcome to the 21st century. And this is a book that takes a very 21st century look at human relationships.
This is a very hard book to describe. Part memoir, part treatise, part philosophical musing it attempts to do something that is very difficult indeed: discuss complex human relationships in a funny, accepting and loving way with an eye to all our human foibles. Monogamy is something that is held up in society as the ideal, but is it the right thing? Are human beings meant to be monogamous? Wilby, whose website describes her as a comedian, musician, writer and broadcaster, takes a broad look at this difficult subject and the result is a personal book that is both entertaining and, at times, poignant.
At one point, Wilby writes: “At what point do we have a responsibility to stay together, not just for the sake of the kids, our partner or ourselves, but for the good of our social community?” She goes on to describe how a group of long-term gay male friends who had spent years holidaying together, partying and supporting one another fell apart when one of the central couples split up. People tried to remain amicable and not take sides but human beings are human beings and the breakup “eroded an entire landscape of friendship”.
Throughout the book Wilby, a gay woman, is open and honest about her own relationships. This ability to be self-critical is a testament to Wilby. She takes a wry and warm approach to discussing her previous relationships. All of this makes it sound like this is just a memoir but it is so much more than this. It’s obvious that the author has put in a huge amount of research for this book and yet it wears this research lightly on its sleeve. I never once felt like I was being preached at as Wilby took me gently through all the anecdotes and statistics and references to books and journals she had read.
Reading this book reminded me in part of Bridget Christie’s A Book For Her. Maybe it’s wrong of me to compare two female comedians who have written books like this, but the fact that Christie’s book was one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time is, I’m hoping, a favourable comparison. Wilby’s book has made me think about relationships and why we just can’t be a bit more open and honest with each other. It’s made me realise that monogamy isn’t for everyone – human beings are just not built that way. We are complex and we are difficult and we are a pain in the arse but we also deserve to be loved and to be happy. We all strive for the perfect relationship but is there really such a thing? We are constantly spoon-fed Disneyesque happy-ever-after Prince and Princess bullshit but real life isn’t a fairy-tale.
Is Monogamy Dead? is not the sort of book I would ever have picked up on a whim. A book about relationships? Ugh. No thanks. But I’m glad to have been proved wrong. And how wrong. Reading this book made me change the way I think about relationships and human interaction and, in the end, isn’t that what all good books should do? Wilby is a terrific writer with a light touch and reading this book made me seek out her stand-up material. I wanted to know if her voice on the page was the same as her voice in real life. I’m happy to say that it was.
Just writing this review has made me want to go back and re-read this book and it’s not often that I say that.