The male friendship bond is not something often explored in mainstream culture, at least not in ways that aren’t all about the jovial humour, witty banter, lads jostling each other for kicks. Any significant relationship regardless of gender or whether it is platonic is something can be a fascinating topic to explore and in his latest novel The Faithful Couple AD Miller gently navigates the complexities of support, guilt, jealousy and growth between two English men. Meeting in 1993 whilst travelling through America on a gap year, Adam and Neil bond over nationality and a sense of completion, each seeing in the other something that they lack.
The pair are self referential, and the title The Faithful Couple is from a sign that both men see by two intertwined sequoia trees in California. Miller writes ‘They only existed together, in their rivalrous embrace.’ This rivalrous embrace and twisted connection of the trees is, of course, the perfect analogy.
Over five sections, each taking place in a different year from 1993 to 2011, we are privy to the men’s lives. Sometimes competitive, sometimes in collusion, they grow into adulthood, through jobs, relationships and cities with paths converging and splitting at different intervals, but always a connection there. It’s complex, but Miller writes with tender insight that reveals emotions without flaunting them in a way that would seem at odds with the characters. Innocence is lost, life starts to happen, and a portrait of the men is built up through descriptions of their experiences and understanding of their emotion.
When they first meet in California, fresh faced from university, both men are bright and optimistic, and I wonder whether the paths of marriage, children, jobs and break ups that they go through are a comment from Miller on the homogeneous lifestyles and beings that society seems to mould individuals into, idealism being thwarted by economic and social forces. There’s a bit of buzz to the writing about London in the noughties, and you can feel the potential energy sweeping the city at the time.
It’s not perfect. At times the narration feels unnecessarily descriptive, words included for their own sake, and towards the end it can be a slightly frustrating read. But by this point we are invested in Miller’s well drawn and developed characters and want to know what happens to them. It turns out that it’s much the same as for the rest of us. The moral landscape is a complex one, the process of becoming yourself difficult, relationships a balancing act and at times the world seems overwhelming. Whether you are male or female.
Published on Little Brown in March 2015.