St. Martin's Press; 10/15/2013
Hardcover, 288 pages ISBN-13: 9781250018199
My Thoughts:How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman is a haunting literary debut about a woman who begins having visions that make her question everything she knowsMarta 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.
How To Be a Good Wife is a debut novel by Emma Chapman. Marta Bjornstad is suffering from empty nest syndrome - and maybe depression and/or some other unmentioned mental health aliment. We know at the beginning that she desperately misses her son, Kylan. We know that she was only 21 when she married Hector, who is over 20 years her senior, 25 years ago. They tell people he saved her from drowning after her parents died, a loss from which she was not recovering. We know that her overbearing mother-in-law, Matilda, gave Marta a book entitled How To Be a Good Wife for a wedding gift. Marta learned every lesson and quotes from the book are interspersed throughout the novel, tips like: Your husband belongs in the outside world. The house is your domain, and your responsibility.
We also know that her husband, Hector, checks on Marta and makes sure she is taking her pills like a good girl because she should know how she gets when she doesn't take her pills.
Unknown to Hector, Marta hasn't been a good girl. In fact, Marta hasn't been swallowing her pills, even if she dutifully opens her mouth for him to give the pill to her. She's been spitting them out later. And now she is seeing what might be visions or hallucinations of a younger blond girl. She is also smoking, something she has never done, but suddenly feels like it was something that she enjoyed. She is also scared to travel out of the valley in the unnamed Scandinavian village where she lives - or she has been told she scared to travel outside the valley.
This short psychological thriller starts slow, so you have to give it time and allow the tension to gradually keep building. At first I thought Marta was simply a woman suffering from depression, but them doubts began to enter and questions began to assert themselves, chiefly that perhaps everything isn't as it seems. The tone began to become more ominous and creepy. Is Marta suffering from a mental illness or is there some other reason she is being kept medicated?
How to be a Good Wife is extremely well written, especially for a debut novel, and Chapman manages to keep the same tone throughout the book. I won't give away anything but I was left wondering what was the truth right up to the end (in a good way because Marta's voice was consistent throughout the narrative.) Marta is an unreliable narrator, but her voice is all we have to go on while trying to discern the truth. It was also maddening at times. I'm just giving you a warning: know that you will very likely get angry.
So, if there is a flaw in How to be a Good Wife, it is, obviously, that Marta is an unreliable narrator so you don't know who to trust or what is true, which will leave you feeling frustrated - and angry.
I very highly recommend How to be a Good Wife.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of St. Martin's Press via Netgalley for review purposes.