The Faithful Couple by AD Miller.
To describe a novel as ‘slow’ and ‘lacking in original plot’ would ordinarily be to criticise it. However, in AD Miller’s follow up to the Booker-shortlisted Snowdrops, this is a compliment of the highest order. Because the book follows a simple structure: two very different men, Adam and Neil, meet on their gap year in the US, and during the course of their travels, egg each other on to seduce a young girl in their group - with Neil ‘winning’, as it were - before realising the next morning quite how young she is. Fifteen, as her furious father lets Neil know, before threatening to call the police. The boys (because that’s what they are, really) escape, and end up travelling back to London together, from where they begin a friendship that we follow throughout their intertwined lives.
This friendship, however, is overshadowed always by this single, morally reprehensible act. Adam, privileged, posh, secure, harbouring guilt that he had known how old she was (her father had told him the night before); and Neil, still getting over his mother’s death from cancer, doting on his nephew, doing his best to ignore the momentous event, initially.
As they age, and we meet them with gaps of a few years each time (reminiscent of the One Day structure) their lives diverge in ways that they both find quietly surprising. Confident, easygoing Adam gives in to mid-level office jobs, to children and a wife, following a failed TV career; whilst Neil climbs ladders in the world of finance, finding himself unbelievably well off, particularly when compared to his old friend.
But guilt over this one, shared event is not easily shaken off nor unburdened. As the years go by, it becomes heavier, leading not to a breath-taking finale, but to a satisfyingly subdued one - which is perfectly fitting.