Review: How To Be a Good Wife

How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

Marta has always tried to be a good wife and her memory tells her she was, up until her son left home to live in the city, start a life of his own. In his absence, the façade begins to crack. She begins to see and hear things. She finds a cigarette in her hands, but has no memory of buying the package. In the market, she slips into a fugue state. Two hours have passed when she leaves—without having bought anything.

Clinging to her routine, to the way things should be done, Marta navigates what seems like deepening madness. It is obvious by now that she has been medicated for a long time—and probably should be. But she has not been taking her pills. She wants to see what happens without them.

She begins seeing a girl, long limbed and blonde, almost always dressed in ill-fitting white pajamas. The ghost of this girl haunts her, slipping into and out of existence, sometimes covering real people, sometimes embodying her own skin. Her family notice she’s not well and they continue to insist she take her pills. Equally obvious is the fact she has always been delicate. Both Marta’s husband and son tread carefully when dealing with her. But as she slides into further disarray, tempers fray and relationships become strained.

Frustratingly, there is always a rational explanation for what she imagines. But as Marta descends, something within her ascends and she begins to piece together the puzzle of her madness.

On the surface, How to be a Good Wife seems to be a novel about a woman experiencing a rather severe bout of empty nest syndrome. It quickly becomes obvious there is something else going on, however. Something much deeper and darker. The reader will question Marta’s sanity as much as her family does, even as events unfold to reveal a horrifying picture—or the suggestion of one.

It’s difficult to review a book that touches on such sensitive material. What I will say is that I could not put this down. It’s well written and utterly compelling. I became absorbed by the book. I had to read it until the end, even though I knew—thought I knew—what was going to happen. I hoped I would be wrong.

Even after finishing, I still hope I am.

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