Love, Lose, Live – and learn? Review by Felicity Shedden
A novel by Resolution member Mary Banham-Hall dramatises the grief of divorce and a family’s response to it, in a way that many clients may relate to and take heart from. - Read the full article
Ever since Aesop, writers have recognised the power of telling simple stories to illustrate complex patterns of behaviour. In Love, Lose, Live, family lawyer and mediator Mary Banham- Hall has used a novel about a family’s experience of divorce to illuminate the underlying dynamics of relationship breakdown. The story is told from the viewpoint of various members of the family: the separating couple, Simon and Beth; their new partners; their extended family and friends; and, crucially, their three children. As the story unfolds, we see how the parents are drawn into behaviour that to an outsider would seem irrational, even cruel. The impact of this behaviour upon the children is depicted by Mary with sensitivity and vivid imagination, giving a compelling voice to each of the children at the centre of the conflict.
Mary is open in explaining that her primary purpose in writing the book was to help people living through separation and divorce. She sets out to explore some of the common emotional and psychological patterns behind the behaviour of separating couples, in the context of an entertaining read, rather than a text book. Perhaps not a literary masterpiece, but the great strength of the book lies in the kindness of the scrutiny afforded to each individual’s responses and intentions. Even Harriet, “the other woman”, who could easily have fallen victim to caricature in her role as temptress, is drawn with understanding – and, indeed, sympathy.
Mary develops her character to show the difficult position of a new partner supporting the father’s relationship with the children. As time passes, Harriet is the one who tries to encourage Simon to see things from Beth’s point of view, and to think about how his actions will affect the whole family. We can understand her frustration and annoyance when, after spending hours cooking what she thinks of as a special treat for the children, they announce that they don’t like it. Mary achieves a fine balance of empathy for the adult who feels that her good intentions and effort have been rejected, and for the children in their woeful attempts to plough their way through their plates of loathsome liver. Ultimately, as so often in this book, it is the adult who is getting it wrong, but all the same, we can appreciate how things have gone awry.
As for the main protagonists, at every stage we are encouraged to see the situation from their individual perspectives, and so to understand how they find themselves in spiralling conflict. We watch as Simon and Beth each believe themselves to be acting in the interests of the children, and yet each allow their own feelings of anger, hurt and grief to colour their judgement. Both are guilty of drawing the children into the battlefield, and both struggle at points to recognise their own culpability in the situation. Mary traces their journey through the stages of grief, highlighting how their attempts to communicate are hampered by their differing progress towards recovery. Again and again, and despite their best intentions, the characters play out the stories that family lawyers hear every day.
The stars of the show are the three children, Charles, Ben and Catherine. We see how Charles, serious and sensitive, becomes the adult of the family, mediating between his parents and looking after his younger siblings. Ben, the middle child, is earnest and unsure of himself, all too easily overlooked. Poor Catherine, at the age of four, regresses to bed-wetting, and struggles to articulate her intense feelings of anxiety and fear.
Mary gives each child a unique understanding of their parents’ conflict, offering a moving, sometimes harrowing, insight into the impact of the divorce upon them. It is in her portrayal of the children’s frequently unheard voices that Mary’s writing becomes most persuasive.
There is, of course, a didactic aspect to the book, emphasised by the thought-provoking “Afterword”, in which Mary sets out the theories that inform the actions of her characters. By telling a story, like a fable, Mary allows her readers to see each individual’s viewpoint objectively; hopefully, this will help readers who are going through separation themselves to a better understanding of their own feelings, and perhaps of the feelings of other members of their family.
Beyond this, Mary has a clear aim of demonstrating how mediation could assist the family to resolve their differences quickly, amicably and sensibly. For Beth and Simon, after they have hit rock bottom, mediation offers a route back to a sensible co-parenting future. The alternative ending – “What Happened at Court”- leaves them entirely unable to communicate, their relationship as parents non-existent.
Love, Lose, Live is a powerful advertisement for mediation, presented in an accessible and engaging format. It’s also a moving, insightful and ultimately hopeful, story of love, grief and recovery.