With an intriguing setting and the unavoidable tension beneath the flat, grey surface, Emma Chapman has created a memorable, if not comfortable story of a marriage in dissolution.
Marta is the much younger wife, and provides much of the narrative to the story. Living in a nondescript Scandanavian town she is having several experiences that she cannot rationalize, although her husband Hector manages to do just that.
Throughout the story, we are given flashes of Marta, and her earlier years: none of these portray Hector in a remotely positive light. He comes to feel, for me, much like the asp in the corner, waiting to strike as the victim is constantly trying to appease its anger. Add to this a very odd relationship between Hector and his mother, and Marta’s constant repetition of the chapter leads from the book How to be a Good Wife, a handbook for new brides with a feel of a 1950’s black and white television show that was the mother-in-laws gift on their wedding.
Cold and flat, with moments of color that are provided by her reminiscences or possible hallucinations, the story maintains that muted tone: obviously depressed or drugged, Marta’s narration and voice are heavy and weigh on the reader. I say drugged as she often mentions Hector’s insistence that she take her medication, almost policing her dosage: when she manages to avoid detection and hide rather than take the meds, her thoughts are jumbled and frenetic, but there is life there.
Throughout the story, Marta is visited by a young, blonde girl. Unable to determine if this is reality, a memory or a ghost; readers are left to determine who is right in their declaration. There is a sinister underlay to Hector and his dismissal of all Marta sees, thinks or utters in thought. His feel and tone suggest he is manipulating situations for his own easier existence, but when Marta can’t even find a distinction between fact and fiction, memory and hope there are no easy answers for the reader either.
This is a very uncomfortable read, one that you will either read straight through to be done with it, or read in small doses with lighter fare to break up the heaviness in your heart, it was a book well worth reading. The author has managed to bring together all of the elements for a torturing psychological thriller, yet not provided a clear end point that wraps the story with one definitive conclusion. For a debut offering, this is a stunner.
Title: How to be a Good Wife
Author: Emma Chapman
Genre: Contemporary Psychological Thriller, Literary Fiction
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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In the tradition of Emma Donoghue's Room and S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, a haunting literary debut about a woman who begins having visions that make her question everything she knows
Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending him off to life after university. So long, in fact, that Marta finds it difficult to remember her life before Hector. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife—as advised by a dog-eared manual given to her by Hector’s aloof mother on their wedding day.
But now, something is changing. Small things seem off. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye, elapsed moments that she can’t recall. Visions of a blonde girl in the darkness that only Marta can see. Perhaps she is starting to remember—or perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her. As Marta’s visions persist and her reality grows more disjointed, it’s unclear if the danger lies in the world around her, or in Marta herself. The girl is growing more real every day, and she wants something.