Polygamy is a contentious and often sensationalised topic yet audiences around the world seem to have an unlimited appetite for it. Prurient interest in the domestic arrangements of a man with more than one wife does not seem to have been dampened by the recent Western penchant for polyamorous relationships. Social media influencers and lifestyle blogs are shouting from the rooftops about the death of monogamy and the positivity of embracing multiple partners as life expectancy increases. I can barely cope with one significant other, never mind another, so can’t quite see the appeal. Don’t get me wrong, this is still very much a niche arrangement. What I find curious though, is the way it is treated in different contexts. There is an assumption that polygamous marriages in the Muslim world are exploitative of women. Yet the narrative surrounding polyamoury practised in other societies is couched in the rhetoric of sexual liberation and freedom from repressive convention. The truth, as is often the case, is complex. It is a shame that Hussain Ali Lootah’s Between Two Wives does little to deconstruct the clichés and stereotypes in which the issue is entrenched.
As I picked up the novel I promised myself I would keep an open mind. I had an inkling this would be difficult but challenged myself to defy all cynicism. Even so, I could not have guessed what an impossible task this would prove. Suppressing every instinct to eye-roll, I scanned the spiel on the jacket. Apparently, this is the author’s semi-autobiographical account of his ‘turbulent inner struggles’ as a man with two wives. Semi-autobiographical, I’m assuming, with all names changed to protect the innocent. And there certainly are many innocents in this tangled web of deceit, self-deception and misogyny. Our dear narrator, I am afraid, is not one of them.