Tony Parsons - My Favourite Wife
The question of whether it’s possible to truly love more than one person is perhaps the most enduring theme in world literature. Writers as diverse as Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, DH Lawrence and Vladimir Nabokov have created particularly powerful tales of thwarted love and sexuality. In recent years, the journalist and author Tony Parsons has been trumpeted as a modern-day chronicler of relationships and family life from the perspective of white, middle-class males.
His latest novel, My Favourite Wife, follows ambitious lawyer Bill as he and his spouse Becca and their four-year-old emigrate from London to Shanghai. Becca’s enthusiasm for the teeming boomtown quickly wanes and, when she is forced to return home, Bill is drawn to Jin Jin li, resident of Paradise Mansions, where rich Chinese businessmen host their ‘second wives’. They fall in love, pitching Bill into a whirl of guilt and soul-searching about his responsibility to both lovers.
The ‘second wife’ phenomenon is an interesting springboard from which to consider the thorny business of monogamy in the modern age. Yet, Parsons wastes his premise with extended passages of banal, humourless exposition as Bill struggles with his narrow personal predicament. For all its avowed attempts to explore the boundaries between sex, relationships, obsession and love, the conclusions are rarely anything but conventional, with the female characters particularly sketchily drawn, and there are few surprises as the plot unfolds.