Once in a while, I take a break from stretching my brain to just enjoy a novel. Nothing taxing, no ingredients to track down, no making notes in the margin. Just reading for the sake of reading. When Doubleday sent me Serial Monogamy, by award winning author Kate Taylor, I was slowly intrigued. Let me explain…
What happens when life and ambition collide with betrayal and disease? Sharon’s comfortable existence as a novelist, wife and mother to twin daughters is shattered by a cancer diagnosis, and by her husband’s affair with a graduate student. The only relief in sight is a new writing project—an engrossing serialized novel based on the story of the 19th-century actress Nelly Ternan, the young mistress of the aging Charles Dickens. Chronicling this infamous affair, Sharon is forced to examine with new eyes the secrets and struggles at the heart of domestic life, as she strives to mend her own marriage and heal her body. This surprising and intricate novel shifts between Sharon’s Toronto and Nelly’s Victorian England in interwoven chapters, asking deep questions about what really makes up the story of a relationship and a life.
Serial Monogamy is the story of a woman who is simultaneously writing two biographies. The first is largely fictional – a semi-historical account of Charles Dickens’ young mistress, Nelly Ternan. The second is more autobiographical – the story of her own life with her husband and twin girls. The two stories are told in an intertwined manner and finally wrapped up in a rather shocking way. From the beginning of the novel, I had wondered how it would all end. Never would I have imagined that it would finish the way it did.
The novel itself, not unlike the serial that Sharon is writing, starts off slowly. At one point, I put it down for a few weeks. I am glad, however, that I decided to pick it back up. The story rapidly picks up speed and held my interest. I admit to re-reading the last couple of chapters (as well as the prologue) in order to fully grasp the multiple story lines and meanings. It’s pretty safe to attribute a portion of that to reading late at night.
It is easy to see why Kate Taylor has been awarded so many accolades during her writing career. Serial Monogamy is not simply the re-imagining of a single historical figure’s shady personal life nor the struggles of a family dealing with infidelity and illness. It is a masterful intertwinig of lives and a shockingly honest appreciation of the trials and compromises the ‘other woman’ faces in our society.