This post was written by Friday guest blogger Emma Garman.
Jason Cowley in the current New Statesman (unfortunately behind paid subscription) observes that nowadays a husband is as likely to be overshadowed by his successful novelist wife as vice versa:
Today, the traditionally supportive role of so many writers’ wives is occupied by men married to successful female novelists. There are also those marriages that are true literary unions. One thinks of Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt, whose fine debut novel, The Blindfold, was full of allusions and intertextual winks to her husband; of Michael Holroyd and Margaret Drabble; and of Michael Frayn and Claire Tomalin, who found themselves in direct competition when they were both shortlisted for the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year award. One thinks, too, of a new generation of smart metropolitan authors – Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer – who have married fellow writers. This year, Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and his wife, Nicole Krauss (The History of Love), are both publishing novels, as are Zadie Smith (On Beauty) and her husband, Nick Laird (Utterly Monkey).
How difficult is it to share your life, and your house, with someone who, like you, is a writer, but who just happens to be that much more successful? What does this do to your morale and motivation, to your sense of hope? Jonathan Franzen’s former partner, Kathryn Chetkovich, who is a novelist, has written candidly about how it feels to observe the man you love achieving all that you had once hoped to achieve yourself. ” There was a time when he may have been struggling, but he knew what his work was,” she wrote. “That was the first thing I envied.” Then he completed and sold The Corrections. “When the man was merely gifted but not particularly rewarded, I was comfortable; we were in it together, comrades in a world that didn’t care what we had to tell it. But now, what did his success prove if not that when the gift is prodigious enough, the world does need us, it will pay?”
Literary envy, as Chetkovich testifies, can be corrosive, both to the self and to your partner. Laird – who this year, besides his first novel, will publish a book of poetry, To a Fault – offers a more balanced perspective. “I do feel more at home in poetry, I think,” he says. “I know more about it. Partly, as well, because my wife is a novelist, obviously, and we sort of carved it up that that was her area and this was my area. And now it’s less clear – but I do give way. I think she knows more about it than me and is better than me.” When Laird and Smith were students at Cambridge, she came second to him in a writing competition. His prize was £60 of book tokens. Two weeks later, Smith signed a deal with Hamish Hamilton for £250,000. Laird has admitted that, although he and his wife are mutually supportive and help to edit each other’s work, he has often felt “two feet high” as she is feted at literary events.