The Marriage Machine
Hamish Hamilton, London, 1975
dedication: For Jenny
The blurb on the back:
In 1947 the Marriage Machine stood in a New York bar. For a nickel it dispensed a truncated version of the Christian marriage service, a cellophane packet of confetti and a miniature marriage certificate which dropped into a pocket like a church door. Seventeen-year-old Marion, on a visit from England, married Johnny Hartman in front of the Machine. He filled in their names on the certificate and with this warranty they went to bed, although, the reputation of GIs being what it was, Marion's friend Angela refused to believe they had not done so before.
Gillian Freeman is a wonderful, wonderful writer, and she got better as she went on. This is twenty years on from The Liberty Man and, however good that was, this is sheer genius. The storyline is on a small scale - a girl from the Thames Valley marries a US soldier in the aftermath of the Second World War - but the details and the characterization are so beautiful that for long periods I lost track of the fact that I was reading: I just found myself immersed in the world she created.
The central core of the book is the gap between the reality of war-time Britain and the fantasy world of the States, the aspiration to glamour and the subsequent home-sickness. The period is beautifully evoked and is a joy unto itself, but the tension between British and American culture is as applicable now as in the period described, and the sense of identity crisis remains a key part of our society - it's all still relevant, for pity's sake.
What's particularly lovely - amongst so many things - is the subtlety of observation of, for example, the way in which the speed of cultural change transforms the superficial attractiveness of America:
But this is an impossible book to quote from: it's too perfect a unity to split up. Seldom is such artistic achievement so immediately accessible. Don't miss it on any account.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 5/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 2/5