Literary Wives Club: State of the Union by Nick Hornby

This was my third read for the Literary Wives online book club. The other members will also be posting their thoughts this week.

Kay at What Me Read

Lynn at Smoke & Mirrors

Naomi at Consumed by Ink

I first read State of the Union nearly three years ago (my original review). Nick Hornby is a reliable author for me; I’ve read almost his entire oeuvre now. This is an enjoyable novella that feels more like a screenplay – it basically is the script for the TV series – and is based around 10 dialogues between Tom and Louise, a couple meeting up at a pub for a drink before each marriage counselling session with Kenyon. Louise is an NHS gerontologist; Tom is an unemployed music journalist. When they stopped having sex, she had an affair. It was a short-lived thing, but it crushed Tom’s self-esteem and he moved out. The fact that one of them voted for Brexit and the other did not is an additional barrier. Though they have two children, we learn basically nothing about them. Tom and Louise talk about their relationship, but also everything else. They speculate about Kenyon’s other clients, and their own future.

The central question we ask about the books we read for Literary Wives is:

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

“How are new starts possible?” Louise says. “When you’ve been together for a long time, and you have kids, and you’ve spent years and years being irritated by the other person?”

I remember finding the book funny, though also on the nose, the first time I read it; this time it seemed more depressing. It could be something about the ebb and flow of all marriages, mine and the fictional one depicted.

What stood out to me most was that the main characters don’t appear to have much in common. They met at a party in their twenties and, when Louise asks if in an alternate life where they didn’t have a sexual connection (and thus, no kids together) they would be friends, they conclude that they wouldn’t. I’ve always thought that, at its heart, a marriage is a friendship. You should truly enjoy each other’s company and have at least a few common interests. Having other friends and separate hobbies is fine, of course, but for the one person you’re going to spend most of your time with to be very different from you strikes me as odd. Opposites attract is all well and good as a basis for lust, but not for a lasting partnership.

Tom and Louise are in danger of ‘staying together for the kids’ – is co-parenting all that’s keeping them together? – unless they rediscover a sexual spark. I’d forgotten the ending of the book. It seems like a fitting one for a TV miniseries and for a comic author.

My original rating (2019):

My rating now:


Next book: His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie (March 2023)

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29 responses

  1. Argh! I’ve forgotten how it ends. I’m going to have to go back and see again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did you see the TV series? Which is better?

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      1. I saw the TV series first, then read the book (which was the order Hornby did it too). I preferred the TV actually. My review here: https://annabookbel.net/book-vs-tv-which-came-first-for-this-one

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That explains why it reads like a script with a few stage directions shoved in! Even having not seen it, I think the casting was perfect. I can hear Chris O’Dowd in my head for Tom.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Unlike you, I’ve never particularly enjoyed Hornby’s books. Maybe I should give him another chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This and Just Like You, his two most recent works, are a bit of a departure for him: post-Brexit romances of a sort.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OK. Well, let’s see then …

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  3. Interesting that it’s dropped a star on your second reading, and I couldn’t agree with you more about friendship in a relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A reread can go one of several ways for me: I love it just as much, I appreciate it even more, or it doesn’t live up to my memory.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Obviously, you were more thoughtful about this book than I was. I didn’t know it was a TV series, but that explains my reaction to it. I didn’t think he was being very original or doing much except writing a funny script. I also found it sad rather than funny. although of course there are good lines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does help to know that he wrote the script first. He didn’t do much to novelize it besides adding a few descriptive sentences and speech marks! I think I might prefer the TV show if I were able to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perhaps. That explains why it was so facile seeming.

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  5. I forgot about their disagreement about Brexit. That one issue could mean all the difference!

    I tend to agree about friendship being the foundation of a good marriage. But is it friendship or trust? Or maybe friendship and trust automatically go together. I want to know exactly what works and what doesn’t! But I know I never will. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. His novel after this, Just Like You, also explores romance between characters who voted different ways.

      We both picked up on that passage where they wonder whether they would have been friends in an alternate scenario. I can’t imagine being with someone I didn’t consider a friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was hard to tell whether they considered themselves friends or not. They agreed they wouldn’t have become friends if they hadn’t hooked up that night, but maybe after 10 years of marriage they have become friends. We don’t really get to see them at home. Haha! I will always argue on the side of everyone being happy!

        I would really like to see the TV series now, but we only have Netflix…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Spot on about friendship in marriage. I will probably skip this one – I don’t really enjoy reading novels where a marriage on the rocks is the biggest plot point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fair enough! Though (spoiler) it does have a happy ending.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Completely in agreement about the need for a connection beyond sexual attraction in a successful relationship. So often I see couples out for the evening together in a pub or restaurant and they have nothing to say to each other – they just sit looking at their individual phones. So really what is the point of being together?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I take it family meals are like that too unless parents institute a no-phones policy!

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  8. Interesting. I feel like I have read something by Nick Hornby but I’m not sure what… maybe High Fidelity? Is that the one where he’s obsessed with old music? It obviously didn’t make much of an impression!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that’s one of his most popular books, about the record store owner. Hornby’s work has a reputation for being lad lit, though I’ve always found it more interesting than that suggests. He and Helen Fielding are how I learned British culture and slang in the early 2000s before I ever came to this country!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ha, I feel like you might have got an odd impression of British slang from Bridget Jones (much as I love it!)

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  9. I hadn’t realised the TV programmes (now in a second series, this time set in North America) were available as a novella. I enjoyed – though maybe that’s too strong a word – the screen version; maybe distance in time and memories of that may render this a very different beast.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I hadn’t heard about the second series!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Patricia Clarkson.and.Btendan Gleason are the couple im series 2.

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    1. Oops, I’m all thumbs

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  11. That does sound a bit depressing and yes, I don’t think you can really have a marriage without friendship, certainly not a long one. I come and go with his books – they feel like the equivalent of Richard Curtis films, a bit emotionally manipulative for the sake of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, that’s an interesting comparison, and I think I see what you mean. Complexity and nuance are toned down in favour of simplistic messages? (How to Be Good was the worst for that.) Perhaps his time as a screenwriter has changed his approach a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, and always a whammy rather than a subtle nudge.

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