Literary Power Couples: An Inventory

With Valentine’s Day on the way, I’ve been reading a bunch of books with “Love” in the title to round up in a mini-reviews post next week. One of them was What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt – my second taste of her brilliant fiction after The Blazing World. Yet I’ve not tried a one of her husband Paul Auster’s books. There’s no particular reason for that; I’ve even had his New York Trilogy out from the library in the past, but never got around to reading it.

How about some other literary power couples? Here’s some that came to mind, along with an inventory of what I’ve read from each half. It’s pretty even for the first two couples, but in most of the other cases there’s a clear winner.


Zadie Smith: 5

Nick Laird: 5 (= ALL)

Zadie Smith in 2011. By David Shankbone (CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

Zadie Smith in 2011. By David Shankbone (CC BY 3.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve read all of Zadie Smith’s work apart from NW; I only got a few pages into it when it first came out, but I’m determined to try again someday. To my surprise, I’ve read everything her husband Nick Laird has ever published, which includes three poetry collections and two fairly undistinguished ‘lad lit’ novels. I’m pleased to see that his new novel Modern Gods, coming out on June 27th, is about two sisters and looks like a stab at proper literary fiction.


Jonathan Safran Foer: 4 (= ALL)

Nicole Krauss: 3 (= ALL)

Alas, they’re now an ex-couple. In any case, they’re both on the fairly short list of authors I’d read anything by. Foer has published three novels and the nonfiction polemic Eating Animals. Krauss, too, has three novels to her name, but a new one is long overdue after the slight disappointment of 2010’s Great House.


Margaret Drabble: 5

Michael Holroyd: 0

Michael Holroyd is a biographer and general nonfiction dabbler. I have a few of his books on my TBR but don’t feel much compulsion to seek them out. By contrast, I’ve read four novels and a memoir by Margaret Drabble and am likely to devour more of her fiction in the future.

Margaret Drabble in 2011. By summonedbyfells (CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

Margaret Drabble in 2011. By summonedbyfells [CC BY 2.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons.

Claire Tomalin: 2

Michael Frayn: 1

Claire Tomalin’s masterful biographies of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy are pillars of my nonfiction collection, and I have her books on Nelly Ternan and Samuel Pepys on the shelf to read as well. From her husband, celebrated playwright Michael Frayn, however, I’ve only read the comic novel Skios. It is very funny indeed, though, about a case of mistaken identity at an academic conference on a Greek island.


Plus a few I only recently found out about:


Ian McEwan: 7 (+ an 8th in progress)

Annalena McAfee: 1 (I’ll be reviewing her novel Hame here on Thursday)


Katie Kitamura: 1 (I just finished A Separation yesterday)

Hari Kunzru: 0


Madeleine Thien: 1 (Do Not Say We Have Nothing)

Rawi Hage: 0


Afterwards I consulted the lists of literary power couples on Flavorwire and The Huffington Post and came up with a few more that had slipped my mind:


Michael Chabon: 1

Ayelet Waldman: 0

I loved Moonglow and am keen to try Michael Chabon’s other novels, but I also have a couple of his wife Ayelet Waldman’s books on my TBR.


Dave Eggers: 5

Vendela Vida: 0

I’ve read a decent proportion of Dave Eggers’s books, fiction and nonfiction, but don’t know anything by his wife and The Believer co-founder Vendela Vida.


David Foster Wallace: 2

Mary Karr: 1

I didn’t even know they were briefly a couple. From Wallace I’ve read the essay collection Consider the Lobster and the commencement address This Is Water. I’ve definitely got to get hold of Karr’s memoirs, having so far only read her book about memoir (The Art of Memoir).


And some classics:


Ted Hughes: 1 (Crow)

Sylvia Plath: 0


F. Scott Fitzgerald: 2 (The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night)

Zelda Fitzgerald: 0

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in 1921. By Kenneth Melvin Wright (Minnesota Historical Society) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in 1921. By Kenneth Melvin Wright (Minnesota Historical Society) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

How have you fared with these or other literary power couples? Do you generally gravitate towards one or the other from a pair?

21 responses

  1. Great post! I knew about most of these but not the Kitamura/Kunzru or Eggers/Vida couples. What I Loved is one of my favourite novels. I was an Auster fan before I read it but I prefer her writing.


    1. Thanks, Susan! I’m interested in trying Auster this year, and wonder how I’ll rate him compared to Hustvedt.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent idea! I only knew the classic couples like Fitzgerald and Hughes and also Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith, but have to say I’ve only read one of each of the couples, not the lesser known (though not sure with Plath/Hughes, they seem equally well-known).

    I enjoyed NW, though could see why it might be challenging for those unfamiliar the area, the No.98 used to be my bus, so some of the experimental writing I totally got it and could see the characters as if I were back there.

    Will be interested to see what you think of Hame.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I never know who’s a pair and who’s not. Now I feel a little more in the know, thanks to you!
    I did, however, know about Thien and Hage, and have read 2 of Thien’s and 1 of Hage’s (Cockroach). I would really like to read DeNiro’s Game, though – I think I’d like it better.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How about Michael Ondaatje and Linda Spalding? I confess I haven’t read her work, but they are on my mental list of literary couples.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t heard of Spalding; thanks for bringing her to my attention. (I’ve read 2 from Ondaatje: the poetry collection Handwriting and the memoir Running in the Family.)


  5. Annabel (gaskella) | Reply

    Do read Auster! Some more couples for you: Glen David Gold is now divorced from Alice Sebbold. There was Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard, John and Penelope Mortimer,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, good ones! I had known about Gold and Sebold at some point but forgot — shame to learn they’re now an ex-couple. I’ve read one Amis (Lucky Jim, which you just reviewed!) but nothing from Howard. And the Mortimers I’d never heard of.


  6. Another pair for you – Margaret Forster and Hunter Davies.
    Do, do read Claire Tomalin’s Samuel Pepys The Unequaled Self. I loved it – as you might be able to detect from my review 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not familiar with either of those authors.

      I will have to find a good time to pick up my chunky paperback of the Pepys biography. You make it sound fascinating!


  7. What a good idea. And Michael Holroyd is one of my favourite biographers; accessible yet erudite, fearsomely well-researched and a damn good read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Which of his books would you recommend?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I loved his Lytton Strachey so much that I have the new edition on my Wish List.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. That would make a good pair with the copy of Eminent Victorians I have on the shelf!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. […] I mentioned on Tuesday, I previously knew of Annalena McAfee only as Mrs. Ian McEwan, though she has a distinguished […]


  9. What a fun idea! I adore Michael Chabon—Moonglow is on my shelf and I’ve read and loved Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and Wonder Boys.


    1. I was really impressed with Moonglow. I got to review it for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and it was their feature review in the paper that Sunday — he’s a home-town boy. I have The Yiddish Policemen’s Union in a box in America.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s wonderful!


  10. Just came across another one: children’s/YA author Deborah Heiligman is married to science writer Jonathan Weiner (The Beak of the Finch).


  11. Another one has come to my attention: novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz and poet Paul Muldoon.


  12. Also Heidi Julavits and Ben Marcus.


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