Updated on August 5, 2015
32. ‘How To Be A Good Wife’ by Emma Chapman
‘How To Be A Good Wife’ is a book within a book. The book features in the story: it was given as a gift to Marta, by her mother-in-law, when she married Hector. Snippets from this book are featured throughout the story, which are astonishingly old-fashioned and sexist.
Marta has to have dinner on the table for her husband when he comes home, and she cannot start to eat without him. She must not put any household responsibilities upon his shoulders. She does everything she can (by the book) to keep him happy, but there is something mysterious in their past. She cannot remember how they first met, and her husband feeds her pills every day.
I found the beginning of this novel genuinely creepy: things move around in the house without reason, and the fact we see everything through Marta’s eyes, framed by her unstable mind, creates a truly eerie atmosphere. And then she starts seeing a strange little girl.
I thought that after a while this technique was overused. At first her strange visions are frightening, but it gets to the point that she is seeing the little girl on practically every page and this makes it lose its edge. The fact that the girl appears so often, and with so many heavy-handed narrative clues, means that what should be subtle becomes predictable, and when the ‘big reveal’ happens it is not as unexpected as it could have been.
This is not to say what is revealed isn’t shocking and horrifying – it certainly is, and I thought it was an excellent revelation for the story. In light of this, Marta makes her escape from her dominating husband, and heads to her grown son’s home. But here there is a frustrating scene, in which she says things like, “I must tell you about your father,” and yet is cajoled into going to bed and waiting until morning. I would rather have seen her shout out her trauma as soon as her son opened the door – forcing him, for once, to give her the attention she deserves – but she remains to a certain extent the wilting flower.
Still, the ending is excellent. Are her ‘memories’ true, or are they simply hallucinations that emerged when she stopped taking her pills? I guarantee you will be left with a fitting sense of unease, even after the last page has been turned.
This book was sent to me by the lovely people at Picador. It is due to be published next year.
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?