The Headmaster's Wife: Book summary and reviews of The Headmaster's Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene

The Headmaster's Wife

By Thomas Christopher Greene

The Headmaster's Wife
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2014,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

Beautifully written and compulsively readable, The Headmaster's Wife is a haunting and deeply affecting portrait of one couple at their best and worst - "a truly remarkable novel." (Richard Russo)

An immensely talented writer whose work has been described as "incandescent" (Kirkus Reviews) and "poetic" (Booklist), Thomas Christopher Greene turns in a more literary direction with The Headmaster's Wife, his most ambitious work to date.

Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the Headmaster of Vermont's elite Lancaster School. Found wandering naked in Central Park, he begins to tell his story to the police, but his memories collide into one another until the true nature of things Arthur does not know how to address begins to emerge. A narrative of love, marriage, and unspeakable loss, The Headmaster's Wife explores the way tragedy and time assail one man's memories of his life.

A beautifully written, profoundly emotional book, it is perfect for fans of Anita Shreve and Richard Russo, and stands as a moving elegy to the power of love as an antidote to grief.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This is a riveting psychological novel about loss and the terrible mistakes and compromises one can make in love and marriage. Essential for fans of literary fiction." - Library Journal

"Although the puzzle element threatens to overwhelm the narrative, this is a moving testament to the vicissitudes of love and loss, regret and hope." - Kirkus

"Nothing is what it appears in this brilliant story of a life gone awry, in Greene's fourth novel set in New England (after 2007's Envious Moon)." - Publishers Weekly

"Greene's genre-bending novel of madness and despair evokes both the predatory lasciviousness of Nabokov's classic, Lolita, and the anxious ambiguity of Gillian Flynn's contemporary thriller, Gone Girl (2012)." - Booklist

"A truly remarkable novel, I read the second half of The Headmaster's Wife with my mouth open, my jaw having dropped at the end of the first half. Thomas Christopher Greene knows how to hook a reader and land him." - Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Empire Falls

"An accomplished and artful storyteller, Greene has surprises in store as he unspools a plot that becomes as poignant as it is unpredictable." - Wally Lamb, New York Times bestselling author of The Hour I First Believed

"I devoured this book. It has all the hooks - a mystery, a marriage, an investigation, a loss, a close-up of a society I'm not privy to – and yet, at its heart, there are unexpected love stories embedded within." - Julianna Baggott, New York Times bestselling author of Pure

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Shelly B. (Staten Island, NY)
The Headmaster's Wife
I did not enjoy this book. I gave it 3 stars but I really feel 2 1/2 stars is more how I feel it deserves. The second part, the wife's voice, was better than the husband's voice. I did not connect with him at all.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Claudia K. (Raleigh, NC)
My very, very first review
I must admit that having three children attend prep schools in New England I felt very much at home while reading The Headmaster's Wife. Beyond this connection, my comfort level stopped. What is reality, what is confused memory, and what is what one might wish it had been. Throughout this novel, these questions kept recurring. I suggest reading this book with out trying to determine the answers to the questions until the end and then try to reconstruct what is a troubling and compelling story of love, lose, and confusion. I hope to read more of Thomas Christopher Greene's work.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Audrey C. (Canfield, OH)
The Headmaster's Wife
T. C. Greene's The Headmaster's Wife fulfills every author's dream to write a really good book. Not once in this book was there any predictable section that would make a reader shelve the read and forget about it.

Certainly, Greene's novel grips the reader as a vise page after page with with a multitude of experiences. As a reader I could not imagine where the next pages would maneuver me so I read on. Each character, Arthur and Betsy, displays abilities and inabilities for survival. What, indeed, really drives us to act and react as we do?

Toward the end of the book, Arthur and Betsy look out into the winter night. Far below "is the river, timeless and uncaring. It moves to the sea as if they were not there at all." So, too, for us in our day to day or ending phases of life's triumphs, foibles, or confusions, life moves in a timeless, uncaring manner except for those with whom we literally or figuratively hold hands! As we age we ponder to what end will our journey take us? And, Greene answers: Real courage lies in going on living when you know death is an eventuality! The book serves to give us an opportunity to see how someone else overcomes a tragedy.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Kathrin C. (Corona, CA)
Less Than Redeeming
I really wanted to like this book more than I did - probably based on positive commentary from the likes of Wally Lamb and Richard Russo. But I finished the novel with a slightly sour taste in my mouth. Greene's writing seemed skillful enough and he creates some deft sketches of private school life, but his two main characters, the headmaster and his wife, never reached that redeeming spot of "flawed but likeable." I never emotionally connected with them and it felt as if I was reading distant narratives of a middle-aged couple's intimate thoughts. The story lacked a cohesion to let some of its themes shine through - the trials of aging, the grief of losing a child.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Linda S. (Arlington Heights, IL)
The Headmaster's head trip
This book was a pretty easy, fast read. I'm glad I finished it. When it began I was very inclined to stop reading. I didn't like where the story was headed. I found it repugnant actually. But I sensed there was more to it so I kept on. I'm glad I did as the second half explained the realities of the first half. That being said, I thought the book was a bit unbelievable and shallow. Wrapped up all tidy. It wasn't a horrible book but I don't know how I would recommend it without giving away the first part to convince reader to read last part.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Diane P. (Concord, MA)
Worth the read
In this novel, Thomas Greene has adroitly captured the pitch-perfect tone of pre-1960's and 1990's boarding school life, as well as a trenchant understanding of adolescent impunity, along with adult longing and despair. Greene quickly establishes his cynical protagonist, the Headmaster, Dick Ives, but not until the second half of the novel does the Headmaster's wife, Elisabeth, fully emerge.

Surprisingly, authentic, emotional turmoil over loss is the true focus of this work, but Greene's literary trompe l'oeil is only apparent halfway through the narrative, which is both the brilliance and the difficulty of the novel. The first half is trite, but when Greene reveals the real purpose of the work, the reader forgives him and becomes engrossed in the narrative. If readers are tenacious, they will reap the rewards of Greene's poignant world.

...17 more reader reviews

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Thomas Christopher Greene is the author of three previous novels: Mirror Lake, I'll Never be Long Gone, and Envious Moon. His fiction has been translated into eleven languages and has won many awards and honors. In 2007, Tom founded the Vermont College of Fine Arts, a top fine arts college, making him the youngest college president in America at that time. He lives in Montpelier, VT, with his family. Visit him online at thomaschristophergreene.com.

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