Reviewed by Jenny Banks
Nick Wakefield has everything. A loving wife, Maya, and twins, a great home and his own company. But Nick Wakefield isn’t happy and doesn’t want everything. He wants a divorce, and he wants it to be as cheap as possible. Under advice from a friend, Nick starts to act like a better man to ensure a cheaper pay-out and encourages Maya to be more self-sufficient. He comes home early, he doesn’t work weekends, and he whisks Maya away on holiday. Things are so great, in fact, that suddenly Nick isn’t just acting like a better man – he has become one. Everything is going according to plan – until Maya finds out, that is…
Leah McLaren’s novel has a very intriguing plot and I was looking forward to getting started. I found it quite hard, however, to properly engage with the book at the beginning. I quickly disliked Nick and I felt ambivalent towards Maya. Nick isn’t caring or empathetic enough for the reader, in turn, to care about him. He has pushed Maya and the twins aside, as he aspires to be single and free. Maya seems slightly detached from her environment. After leaving work following the birth of her twins she has thrown herself into exercise, healthy eating and various regular appointments. Nick and Maya are just existing and barely communicating.
As the novel progresses, however, I did become more interested in what the outcome would be. Nick does change. The better man he turns into still isn’t the best version that Maya and the twins, Isla and Foster, deserve, but he certainly improves. Maya also changes and takes back control of her life by returning to work. Nick and Maya became so out of sync, it was fun to see them reunite and be the couple they used to be as college sweethearts. Maya’s personality starts to come through more too, as the antithesis of Nick’s worst self: she is kind and convivial. McLaren writes with evident insight into her characters’ minds and motivations, and I soon came to better understand both Nick and Maya.
At the novel’s denouement, the payoff when Maya finds out about Nick’s plan is very satisfying. The subsequent part of the story developed unexpectedly, and I found this portion of the novel to be the most absorbing. The premise is an interesting idea to explore and McLaren does that fully by involving the more technical aspects of separation and divorce – made all the more remarkable considering Maya’s career in the legal profession, specifically family law.
Although A Better Man gets off to a shaky start and it was at first hard to sympathise with Nick and Maya, the character change and anticipation of the outcome creates an enjoyable novel.