About the book

Writing on friendship and literature

Q & A with A. D. Miller

What is The Faithful Couple about?

This is the story of two young men, Adam and Neil, who strike up a friendship while on holiday in California in 1993. In part the book is a story of that friendship and how it evolves over the following two decades. But it's also a story about remorse, because, in California, the excitement of their relationship leads Adam and Neil to behave in ways they come desperately to regret. The book tries to explore the connections between these two themes: the way secrecy and collusion, even betrayal, are often essential parts of friendship.

Are there any similarities between this book and your previous novel, Snowdrops?

There are big, obvious differences, in terms of setting (California and London, not Moscow), voice (third person, not first) and time-scale. In The Faithful Couple the crisis comes at the beginning. But there are similarities, too. Both novels try to pose moral questions, asking readers to judge how culpable the characters are, and for what. Both are interested in remorse; in the way people struggle to understand why they did something, even, retrospectively, what exactly they did, and who they used to be.

Do you think readers will prefer either Neil or Adam?

I expect many readers will, but also that their sympathies may shift over the course of the novel, as the characters and their own relationship evolve. People will disagree about which of them is more blameworthy. I hope that, whatever their preferences, readers will be on the side of the friendship, and want it to survive.

Neil or Adam: who is more like you?

The London Eye

Both and neither. In a way every character in a novel is a distant relation of the author, in the sense that you have to imagine how they think and feel and behave, and so in some second-hand, cousinly way, their thoughts and feelings are yours. At the same time I think most fictional characters are composites, confected from the author's own experience, observations of other people's lives, and invention.

The characters' feelings about the events at the start of the book evolve during it. Is that just a function of maturity?

Partly, and in particular their feelings are shaped by the experience of becoming parents, which I think can often lead to a recalibration of your moral outlook. But the book also tries to convey how, when we think about events at a distance, our perspective is coloured by everything that has happened since and is happening to us now. Later in the novel, when Adam and Neil remember California—and misremember it—what is it they are really thinking and talking about?

There's a lot of tension and competition in The Faithful Couple. What keeps Neil and Adam together?

Golden Gate bridge

One bond is that, as for most people, there isn't enough space in Adam's and Neil's lives for lots of close relationships. And closeness, for them as for others, is partly a question of duration. For all of us, I think, very intimate friends are hard to acquire, and so we end up in a paradoxical situation: our friendships are choices, and the freedom of that choice distinguishes them from the ties of family (the book tries to measure the two kinds of relationship against each other). Yet after a certain time your friends become irreplaceable.

The Faithful Couple takes place during the nineties and noughties, an era in which the way we communicate with each other drastically changed. How does that shift affect the characters and the story?

When Adam and Neil meet, friendships are fragile. You could lose a friend terribly easily, either on a night out or forever. In the online age, it seems to me, friendships are at once more robust and remote—the old jeopardy is gone, everyone is inescapable, but (as Neil puts it), you can find yourself clutching at holograms. Adam and Neil come to feel like that. Technology affects their friendship in another important way: whereas the past used to be dead and buried, the internet has resurrected it.

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