How to Be a Good Wife: Book summary and reviews of How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

How to Be a Good Wife

By Emma Chapman

How to Be a Good Wife
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2013,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Despite a far-fetched conclusion, Chapman excels at creating tension and suspense." - Publishers Weekly

"Suffice to say that the twist that propels expectations in a whole new direction is masterfully wrought. However, the outcome, driven by some highly improbable circumstances and a demonstrable lack of ingenuity on the part of the protagonist, will leave readers, particularly feminists and/or victims' advocates, very dissatisfied indeed. Gripping but rather implausible." - Kirkus

"On the surface the book is a highly competent chiller, but beneath, like a silent, bolted room, there's a much bigger story about the nature of feminine experience. An accomplished debut." - Hilary Mantel, New York Times bestselling author of Wolf Hall

"How to Be a Good Wife is at once claustrophobic, startling and hauntingly beautiful." - Liza Klaussmann, author of Tigers in Red Weather

"A compelling, twisty tale of deception and distrust. Beautifully written, and very clever." - Elizabeth Haynes, author of Into the Darkest Corner

The information about How to Be a Good Wife shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Susan S. (Salem, OH)
What is happening to Marta?
This is not a feel-good novel....but it is a very grabbing psychological thriller that keeps you guessing throughout..I found myself wondering if somehow Hector was to blame for the eerie things happening to her of if she was descending into a form of midlife madness..good first novel!

Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Chris H. (Wauwatosa, WI)
How To Be a Good Wife
I found this book a bit confusing right from the title. There was not even one character I felt especially interested in. It wasn't a bad book, but just a book. Not memorable for me.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Julie D. (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA)
Confused.....
After reading this book I am more confused than when I started it. I found myself not sure where I was in the story and what was going on. I got excited as the story unfolded and thought I finally understood and then the ending left me even more confused. Well written story, but maybe not for me. I almost feel stupid after reading it and not being able to understand the story.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Karen N. (Lafayette, CA)
A haunting tale
Haunting.

I always see this word while reading reviews, or blurbs in the cover of hardback books, but have never used it myself. Since I'm usually one of those people who can predict the ending and turns of stories, I'm not easily fazed (maybe only once, while reading Stephen King's Misery, but I was young and didn't know any better). I'm glad there's finally a book where I can use this particular word in my review.

Haunting.

Yes, haunting, chilling, poignant, evocative, stirring, startling, unnerving, disturbing, mesmerizing, terrifying, unforgettable… You can use any or a combination of these words to describe the book. No matter which one, this story will haunt you for a long, long time.

Marta and Hector are a couple living together. Their son, Kylan, has grown up and moved out. Early in the book, we instantly knew something is just not right with their relationship; something seems to be wrong with one or the other. Marta follows the instructions on one particular book her Mother-in-law gave her for her wedding, and her recites the rules in her mind as she carries out the tasks in her day:

"Make your home a place of peace and order."

"Your husband belongs to the outside world. The house is your domain, and your responsibility."

"Never question his authority, for he always does what is best for the family, and has your interests at heart."

Hector goes to work as a teacher, and Marta stays home and does all the housewife duties: clean, cook, shop. She watches the clock closely since she always needed to be ready and have everything prepared, especially the meal, before Hector gets home. Marta does not remember anything before her marriage to Hector. Her whole universe and existence revolves around her husband.

"After a hard day at work, your husband will want a hearty meal to replenish his spirits."

Marta is also on some kind of medications, and Hector always makes sure she remembers to take them. Sometimes he stands in front of her and examines her mouth after swallowing. You need them, he says. However, Marta decided to skip the medicine, and that's when some weird visions appeared. She keeps seeing this frail, skinny blonde girl in various places of the house. She's wearing white pyjamas with flowers. Sometimes she's clean, healthy and has perfect nails; other times, skinny as bones, filthy with dirty bitten nails and the color of the pyjamas grey.

"Never bother you husband with domestic matters."

Who is the girl? Is she hallucinating, as Hector keeps insisting she is, or is the girl a real person in repressed memory? Should Marta continue to take her medication, or skip to see and hear the girl more clearly? Nothing seems to be what it is. Could she trust her instincts and memories? Should she trust her husband instead, or is she losing her mind? Then, things are getting even worse when Kylan return to visit with his fiancée… Marta's sometimes strong, clear and coherent and other times lost, confused and full of doubt narrative will break your heart.

"Always put the needs of the rest of the family above your own."

It's unbelievable that this book is a debut and how young the author was when she wrote the book. Emma Chapman writes with the skill of an accomplished, mature and experienced author. The concept is brilliant, the plot tight and the prosecution smooth. She explores many facets of our society with ease and grace. She did not take the easy way out by providing us with a straightforward answer to the question we are still asking ourselves way after the last page is turned… Brilliant.

Thanks to the publisher and Bookbrowse for providing my advance reader's copy.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Deanna S. (McHenry, IL)
How to Be a Good Wife
How to Be a Good Wife is a good book, but it's not exceptional. Chilling and well-paced, the storyline drew me in right away: When the narrator, Marta Bjornstad, starts having flashbacks, it's clear that someone in the Bjornstad household is mentally unstable. Is Marta's husband, Hector, deranged? Or is Marta delusional? This marriage between two morally (and mentally) ambiguous characters was somewhat reminiscent of GONE GIRL, though told only from the wife's perspective. Unfortunately, since I only heard Marta's side of the story, I found it difficult to fully sympathize with her or anyone else. Even so, Marta's story is intriguing and likely to appeal to readers who enjoy psychological thrillers.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Christine P. (Salt Lake City, UT)
How to be a good wife?
From the very beginning of this book, there was something unsettling about it. I would pick it up, read a little, and then, put it down. Something about it felt sinister. Emma Chapman paints a portrait of a woman, older, her son having recently moved out and not quite sure what to do with herself. As her story unfolds, it becomes clear that something is definitely not right. The imagery in this book is outstanding. Another positive about the novel is that it is a fast read. Once I got into it, I could not put it down. Its definitely a book that make you ask yourself what would I do if this happened to me or someone I loved.

...16 more reader reviews

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Emma J. Chapman was born in 1985 and grew up in Manchester, England. She studied English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, followed by a Masters in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. After university, she travelled solo in Scandinavia, where she learned to camp, bathe in fjords, and carry everything she needed. She is currently living in Perth, Western Australia. How to Be a Good Wife is her first novel.

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