HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE by Emma Chapman

Book Quote:

“I found the cigarette packet in my handbag this morning underneath my purse. It was disorientating, as if it wasn’t my bag after all. There were some cigarettes missing. I wonder if I smoked them. I imagine myself, standing outside the shop in the village, lighting one. It seems ridiculous. I’m vaguely alarmed that I do not know for sure. I know what Hector would say: that I have too much time on my hands, that I need to keep myself busy. That I need to take my medication. Empty nest syndrome, he tells his friends at the pub, his mother. He’s always said I have a vivid imagination. ”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky  (JAN 10, 2014)

Marta Bjornstad is the chillingly robotic narrator of Emma Chapman’s psychological thriller, How to Be a Good Wife, a disturbing portrait of a woman whose mind may be playing tricks on her. After twenty-five years of marriage, Marta’s existence is tightly regimented: She shops, cooks, cleans the house, does laundry, and tends to her husband, Hector’s, needs. The title is derived from a book of the same name filled with platitudes about how a perfect spouse should behave. Marta’s controlling and overbearing mother-in-law, Matilda, presented the book to her sons’ young bride as a wedding gift, expecting Marta to dutifully memorize every page. One example of the book’s contents: “Your husband belongs to the outside world. The house is your domain, and your responsibility.”

It soon becomes apparent that Marta is not well. She is hallucinating, obsessing about the past, and remembering things that may or may not have occurred. She desperately misses her son, Kylan, who is now a grown man with a job and a girlfriend. As much as Marta would like to cling to Kylan, he is making his own way in the world. Marta was just twenty-one when she married Hector, who is much older than she is, and when she looks at her wedding picture, she observes, “I look happy, but I can’t remember if I was.”

Chapman is a superb storyteller whose evocative descriptive writing and finely-tuned metaphors are powerful indicators of the heroine’s disordered psyche. For example, Marta’s “apron strings catch on the kitchen door” and she spots a smudge on a panel of glass. She rubs the stain until it disappears, since her guidebook warns her: “The smudges cling on: they do not want to be removed.” The catching of the apron strings and Marta’s obsessive attitude towards cleanliness are significant. She is fettered to a dismissive and condescending man who has little understanding of how miserable she is. She cannot cut the strings that tie her to him, and she is unable to cleanse her soul of the pollution that is poisoning her spirit.

The author leaves a great deal to our imagination about what is real and what is the product of Marta’s fantasies. However, whether or not her “delusions” have any basis in reality, it is clear that Marta is clinically depressed, if not psychotic, caught in a vise, and desperate to escape at any cost. This is a heartrending story about a wife’s need to be understood; to express herself; to be loved and cherished; to have friends; and to feel productive. Hector and Marta talk at one another, not to one another. This is a tragic portrait of a sterile, unfulfilling, and dysfunctional relationship that lacks the empathy, communication, and passion that can make a marriage vibrant and rewarding.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 83 readers
PUBLISHER: St. Martin’s Press (October 15, 2013)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
EXTRAS:  Reading Guide and Excerpt
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January 10, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Family Matters, Psychological Suspense

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