"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
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Karen N. (Lafayette, CA)
A haunting tale
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.
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.
Sheryl R. (DeQuincy, LA)
The best kind of thriller
I love books that tell a deep story and that keep me guessing, but I reserve my highest praise for those which make me feel that story in my gut. From the moment I began this book, I was filled with a sense of foreboding and disorientation. The author's very words seemed to convey a sense of doom and darkness which I felt so palpably that I had to stop and process both the story and my feelings on several occasions. What exactly was going on? On so many levels, I identified with this woman who seemed to be dealing with a troubled marriage, an empty nest, a childhood filled with trauma, mental illness, and on and on. But then, was that REALLY what the author was implying. I suspect that every person who reads the book will have very different experiences, viewpoints, and opinions which will make this book ideal for book club discussions. The ending, to me, was fitting and not completely unexpected. I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy experiencing those works of art which touch the most frightening parts of being human.
Claire M. (New York, NY)
How to be a good wife
Wow! What a wonderful read this book was! Skillful writing and plotting takes us through the lonely marriage of Marta Bjornstad. There are feminist issues raised tracing the marriage from its shadowy beginning; a husband too dominated by his mother who seemingly is concerned about the mental health of his wife. But is his wife being manipulated by his concerns? As Marta begins to rely more on her own instincts she begins to think about her past and in doing so, raises the spectre of paranoia, which ultimately creates an ambiguity that will be read differently by the marital or feminist position of the reader. Emma Chapman has delivered a stunning debut.
Sandy K. (Iowa City, IA)
How To Be A Good Wife
The author puts the reader squarely into Marta's story through abundant detail about settings and actions as well as by writing in first person with Marta as narrator. We are able to experience Marta's thoughts, memories, and confusing visions, which tend to enhance our uncertainty about the truth. The central mystery is made possible partly by Marta's strict adherence to the role of a traditional housewife. The reader is motivated to continue reading by a desire to see if and how she breaks her bonds.
Theresa D. (Amityville, NY)
Fork in the Road
I found this book very familiar and also very disturbing. I grew up with an alcoholic father, a domineering husband and a history of mental illness. I kept hoping that Marta would find the help that she needed!
I think Mental Illness is very difficult to deal with. Both the patient and the family can find it hard to discern between reality and delusion. This novel definitely gave credence to both sides. There were times when Marta saw reality as a delusion and other episodes were merely reminiscences.
There are so many stories in today's news about real people who are experiencing lives similar to Marta. How can we expect their families to solve and heal the realities that their loved ones are bearing? I thank Hilary Mantel for starting the dialogue.
Anita F. (Clayton, MO)
How to Be a Good Wife
A great debut novel, How to Be a Good Wife is also well-executed suspense. From page one, it kept me barely able to restrain myself from skipping ahead to see how it ended. The characters are brilliantly depicted. The just-under-the-surface tension leaves you really wondering what is real and what is imagined. I'd recommend the book to anyone looking for a good plot and great characters.
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