I was excited to receive a copy of The Marriage Act, the latest John Marrs novel, from the wonderful team at Macmillan Australia. It sounded like a banger: in a near-future Britain, a right-wing government enacts a Sanctity Of Marriage Act that punishes singles and monitors couples.
It started off strong, too, with creepily realistic government propaganda punctuating the chapters and excellent representation of non-hetero couples. I was looking forward examining the ways that government policy and surveillance impact couples and families… but I’m afraid The Marriage Act didn’t deliver on that front.
I think Marrs maybe tried a bit hard, and tried to incorporate too much into his “high-concept” novel. There were a lot of characters, introduced very quickly. All their relationships and personalities were overshadowed by Marrs’s apparent attempts to make The Marriage Act a political thriller. The legislation on its own would have made for an interesting story, but he threw in a bunch of other “scary” stuff for no apparent reason: finding your soulmates through DNA! Driverless cars! Deepfakes! “Woke” curriculum in schools! Somehow, it was all COVID’s fault, though the mechanism for that was never really explained.
And, it must be said, Marrs hates influencers. Like, really hates them. Throughout The Marriage Act, they were killed off or otherwise violently punished, they tore apart families, they were revealed to be vapid narcissists at every turn. I kept wanting to ask him: what did an influencer ever do to you?
Here seems as good a place as any to offer some trigger warnings, too: suicide, violence, sexual assault, and a horrifying description of cruelty to dogs.
The Marriage Act could have been used to make some really interesting point, about policy-making, about surveillance, about patriarchal institutions… but instead, there was no critical thought to accompany the concept, beyond “Wouldn’t be scary if the government used Alexa to listen to our marital spats?”. That, along with some very obvious plot “twists”, made for a rather disappointing read.
Buy The Marriage Act on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
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