Richard and Anne-Laure have been married for seven years and are now living in Paris with their young daughter. Anne-Laure’s friends warned her that something might happen around the seven-year mark, but she never believed it; she’s blindsided to learn that Richard has been having an affair. The discovery comes at an inopportune time for Richard, whose lover has just left him and moved to London with her fiance. Now he’s without his mistress, whom he shamelessly pines for, and without his family; Anne-Laure plays the role of happy wife in public while she figures out the next move, but she wants nothing to do with Richard behind closed doors.
Richard is an artist who has given up edgier art in favor of commercial success, and during his most successful show yet, he sells a painting that he once made for Anne-Laure that captured a special time in their lives. He immediately regrets this decision, although it becomes the catalyst for making him truly understand all that he has to lose. He desperately tries to win Anne-Laure back, but by then it looks like it’s too late: she’s just discovered the actual scope of his affair. It isn’t long before both sides of their family know what Richard has done.
The novel is told sympathetically through Richard’s eyes. A few pages into the book, I started to suspect that would drive me nuts because make no mistake about it: Richard is in full-blown jerk mode for a while. But. He grew on me, even while I was in a huff on Anne-Laure’s behalf. The prevailing message is loud and clear: even if you’re the most loving couple, at some point, marriage is hard. My favorite thing about Maum’s writing is that her story is full of little layers. Some of my favorite explorations in the novel hinged on the fact that neither side of their family was a stranger to infidelity, though the way their families dealt with it — depending on their French or British culture — was very different.
Speaking of culture, I loved how Maum captured the post-9/11 but pre-Iraq invasion world. Since the book is set in Paris and London, the attitudes on display were markedly different from what US readers probably recall of those months (though American uber-patriotism and freedom fries do make a brief appearance). And since Richard is an artist, all of these elements eventually manifest themselves in Richard’s ever-expanding art world.
When it comes to fiction, what is there left to say on the subjects of family drama and infidelity? Probably not much, but Maum still manages to keep her debut novel fresh and interesting. I look forward to following her career in the future.
I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You was published in June 2010 by Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.