Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 13 December 2012

How to be a Good Wife - Emma Chapman

‘And there it is again, that strange echoing fear, slipping through the cracks that have formed in the memory.’

This is a haunting debut novel with a mesmerising voice at its heart.

Marta recounts the events in her days to us and we question what is real and true. She has been married to Hector, twenty years her senior, for many years, and their son Kylan is grown-up and lives away from home now. Marta keenly feels his absence.

Marta’s days are structured, she checks the time a lot, she goes to the market at a set time. She has no friends, and is dominated by Hector and by her mother-in-law Matilda. The atmospheric setting is an unnamed Scandinavian town.

She has stopped taking her medication and finds that memories are resurfacing of a room, and a girl with blonde hair keeps appearing before Marta. Who is she, does Marta recognize her, is she from the past, why does she seem increasingly familiar?

‘Looking over my shoulder, I see myself in the steamed mirror. I don’t want to push the girl away, to deny these things I have been seeing. There’s a sense that it would be fruitless anyway: like trying to sink a cork in a basin full of water. It will always rise to the surface again.’

Marta begins to doubt the whole basis that her current life is founded on and her husband Hector seems to then be cast in a different light.

How to be a Good Wife boasts a gripping narrative with Marta’s arresting voice. She thinks she recalls images from her past, but are they real? Is what she remembers the truth, is she paranoid, is it the effect of having stopped taking her medication?

She doubts herself, her imaginings, and the reader doubts her too. I totally believed in her, and was scared and anxious as I read on, riveted.

The feeling of Marta being trapped is utterly real. Her marriage, her home, the place she lives, it all feels so claustrophobic.

I wanted to know how this woman’s life could have been so curtailed, her identity reduced to almost nothing, and why, by whom – by her own illness and limitations, by the calm yet crippling control of her husband, by her forgotten past?

This is intelligent fiction, making the reader think and question everything. Is Marta an unreliable narrator or is everything she says and thinks true? Can she trust her husband, can she trust her own senses – the smells she recalls, the sounds she is hearing, the sights that appear to her.

‘There is something, just out of reach, which I can feel shifting inside me. I shut my eyes, willing it to come forward. It’s a smell first, of detergent and sweat, and a rapid image that shuttles before my eyes too fast for me to grasp….The picture spreads for a moment like ink through blotting paper, and then just as quickly, it is gone.’

It’s an emotional, edgy experience to read this book, riddled as it is with uncertainty and deception.

This is an amazing, cleverly written debut by Emma Chapman; it is compelling, insightful and unsettling – I was hooked throughout and have been thinking about it a lot; it keeps a hold of you long after you've finished reading.

Reviewed by Lindsay Healy

Published by Picador on 3rd January 2013

Reviewed as part of the amazon vine programme

You can follow the author on twitter @emmajchapman


  1. Ohhh this sounds really good Linz, will actively look out for this one. Great review, as always, thanks.


    1. Thanks for commenting Lainy. Would love to read what you think about this one too. Thank you.

  2. This sounds just the sort of novel I would enjoy, I hope I get the chance to read it sometime.

  3. Oooh, I'm going to admit that much as I love your reviews I don't often add the books to my TBR...but this is the definite exception! Even the cover is haunting!

    1. Thanks Melissa, that's very kind. I love the cover too, it's perfect for the book.

  4. Oooh, this sounds like it will be a hit in 2013 - I love this kind of unreliable narrator. Definitely one I will watch out for.


    1. Think you'd love this one then Marie. I hope it does well. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Hey, thanks for linking this in to Books You Loved. Happy Holidays!

  6. Sounds good...thanks for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole's December Books I Loved. I am in that list as #4.

    Silver's Reviews
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