An accomplished debut from a writer who shows insight and emotional power.
How To Be a Good Wifeby Emma Chapman
IN THE TRADITION OF EMMA DONOGHUE'S ROOM AND S.J. WATSON'S BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, 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 KNOWS
Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending/i>/i>/i>
IN THE TRADITION OF EMMA DONOGHUE'S ROOM AND S.J. WATSON'S BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, 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 KNOWS
Marta 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 college. 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.
An accomplished debut from a writer who shows insight and emotional power.
On the surface the book is a highly competent, creepy little chiller, but beneath, like a silent, bolted, and half-dark room, there's a much bigger, equally disconcerting story about the nature of feminine experience.
“[An] extraordinary book...Chapman has written a brilliant twist.”—The New York Times Book Review
“On the surface the book is a highly competent, creepy little chiller, but beneath, like a silent, bolted, and half-dark room, there’s a much bigger, equally disconcerting story about the nature of feminine experience.”—Hilary Mantel, New York Times–winning author of author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
“[The] claustrophobic, interior-driven narrative harks back to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s disturbing feminist classic The Yellow Wallpaper, or even Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.”—The Guardian (London)
“[A] chilling debut...Chapman excels at creating tension and suspense.”—Publishers Weekly
“How To Be a Good Wife is at once claustrophobic, startling and hauntingly beautiful. It’s that amazing, awful kind of book that will stay with you long after you wish it would let you go.”—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
In Chapman’s chilling debut, it’s immediately clear that Marta Bjornstad is uncomfortable in her empty nest, with her son Kylan living in the city and her husband Hector more distant than ever before. Cracks begin to appear in Marta’s formerly comfortable life: she discovers cigarettes in her purse and enjoys smoking them, though she has never smoked before. She yearns to travel, although for the past 20 years her life has been circumscribed by the mountains on either side of the small valley in the unnamed Scandinavian country in which she and Hector live. She stops taking her medication and begins to question some of the things she’d previously taken for granted—for instance, Hector’s insistence that she take her medicine (he even placed the pills on her tongue). She also begins to see a girl in dirty pajamas, who seems to need her help. And her outright hostility to Kylan’s new fiancée only widens the cracks, alienating the person she loves the most. As she examines more closely what’s beneath her family’s habits and some of her own memories, she becomes certain that she has uncovered a terrible dark truth that—if she reveals it—will tear their lives apart. Despite a far-fetched conclusion, Chapman excels at creating tension and suspense. (Oct.)
A mad housewife learns that her problems may not all be imaginary in Chapman's disquieting debut. Somewhere in an unnamed Scandinavian country, in an isolated village, a middle-aged woman named Marta Bjornstad has gone off her medication, unbeknownst to her doting husband, Hector. The time is apparently the present, although there is not a smartphone in sight, and the Internet is only referred to once. Hector, a schoolteacher 20 years her senior, has always been an avuncular figure in Marta's life, ever since he rescued her, as a recently orphaned young woman, from a desperate situation whose particulars are shrouded in a haze of amnesia. Marriage to Hector has, for the last two decades or so, been pleasant but always overshadowed by hypercritical mother-in-law Matilda, who, despite her relief at Hector's belated marriage, has always made Marta feel inadequate, however strictly she follows the precepts outlined in Matilda's wedding gift, a retro guidebook entitled How to be a Good Wife. Now, however, Marta's delicate equilibrium has been upset by empty-nest syndrome: Her only child, Kylan, has left home for a job in the city and is engaged to Katya, who, disturbingly, reminds Marta of her younger, dimly recalled self. As the medication wears off, Marta begins to experience some startling visions. She sees a thin girl, apparently a ballet dancer, in dreams and in real time. Like a specter out of Sixth Sense, the girl beckons, seemingly desperate to tell Marta something. Gradually, it dawns on Marta and the reader that her hallucinations may actually be emerging suppressed memories. Without spoilers it's impossible to specify further exactly how these snippets of recalled trauma reach critical mass. 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.
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Read an Excerpt
Today, somehow, I am a smoker.
I did not know this about myself. As far as I remember, I have never smoked before.
It feels unnatural, ill-fitting, for a woman of my age: a wife, a mother with a grown-up son, to sit in the middle of the day with a cigarette between her fingers. Hector hates smoking. He always coughs sharply when we walk behind someone smoking on the street, and I imagine his vocal cords rubbing together, moist and pink like chicken flesh.
I rub the small white face of my watch. Twelve fifteen. By this time, I am usually working on something in the kitchen. I must prepare supper for this evening, the recipe book propped open on the stand that Hector bought me for an early wedding anniversary. I must make bread: mix the ingredients in a large bowl, knead it on the cold wooden worktop, watch it rise in the oven. Hector likes to have fresh bread in the mornings. Make your home a place of peace and order.
The smoke tastes of earth, like the air underground. It moves easily between my mouth and my makeshift ashtray: an antique sugar bowl once given to me by Hector's mother. The fear of being caught is like a familiar darkness; I breathe it in with the smoke.
I found the cigarette packet in my handbag this morning underneath my purse. It was disorientating, as if it wasn't my bag after all. There were some cigarettes missing. I wonder if I smoked them. I imagine myself, standing outside the shop in the village, lighting one.
It seems ridiculous. I'm vaguely alarmed that I do not know for sure. I know what Hector would say: that I have too much time on my hands, that I need to keep myself busy. That I need to take my medication. Empty nest syndrome, he tells his friends at the pub, his mother. He's always said I have a vivid imagination.
Outside is a clear circle of light. Hector's underpants, shirts and trousers move silently in the breeze. Holding the cigarette upright, the glowing tip towards the ceiling, I notice the red-rimmed edges of my fingernails. A shadow shifts across the table. I see a hand, reaching out: the fingers spread open to take it. It is small, with bitten-down nails, a silver ring gleaming on the index finger. Without thinking, I offer the cigarette, but when I look again the hand is gone. The hairs on my arms rise. I turn quickly, my heart beating, but the room is empty.
With a shaking hand, I stub my cigarette against the delicate china and cross the kitchen. Folding a piece of paper towel around the butt, I wrap it with an elastic band, trying to trap the smell. It still emits the stench of stale smoke. Dropping the sugar bowl into the steaming water in the sink, I hide the cigarette packet in the teapot. I put the paper parcel on the window ledge outside the front door. The air is fresh and cold, like plunging my face and chest into ice water. I will dispose of it later, on my way to the market.
I check my watch again. Twelve twenty-five. I set it every day by the clock on the evening news: it is important for me to know the correct time.
Standing at the open front door on the raised porch, I look out at the dirty stretch of lane. Beyond it, the wide green fields spread towards the edge of the rising valley. The clear blue sky opens up above the darkness of the mountains, and as I look up, I feel dizzy.
The tree at the end of our drive is losing its browning leaves: they pool deliciously at its trunk. I long to hear them crunch under my shoes, to run across the valley and through the dark forest until my lungs burn. The cold wind would lash my face, blowing through my hair: my feet would kick up the dirt. I wouldn't stray from the path.
Holding on to the wooden door, I don't step outside. At one o'clock, I will go to the market. Your husband belongs in the outside world. The house is your domain, and your responsibility.
I look at my watch again. Twelve thirty.
Behind the closed front door, it is silent in the house. There is no microwave beeping, no sound of a car door slamming in the drive outside. The washing machine is not even churning: I couldn't scrape together enough for a wash today. The only sound is my breathing, in and out, in and out. The house is always empty now, except for me and sometimes Hector.
The weak midday light slants across the beige carpet. Kylan smiles down from the various pictures on the walls. His first day at school, standing proudly beside Hector's car with his socks pulled up and his new blazer over his arm. In skiing goggles, his face pink and lips rubbery around slightly crooked teeth. Several of him as a baby, his hair sticking up unnaturally and the same gummy smile. I miss him: the stiffness in his crying body, his tense screams, and how he would calm when he found himself in my arms. He has forgotten now, but he felt like this once.
There is only one picture of Hector and me together: our wedding photo. We stand in the church doorway, Hector looking straight at the camera, while I smile up at him. He looks like a husband should: strong and protective and content. If I look closely, I can make out the few grey hairs on his head, the lines around his eyes. My white face is startled by the new light of the churchyard: I was just twenty-one, like a child, my body impossibly slender in the narrow wedding dress. I look happy, but I can't remember if I was. It's so long ago that a dull fog has fallen, and no matter how I grasp, only a few details remain. The particulars of running the house have taken up the space, replacing the old moments. I have a few: Hector's rough hand clasping the top of my arm as we walked through the dark church towards the bright square of daylight. And the feeling of exposure: the eyes of the photographer on my face; Hector's parents standing to one side, watching.
Hector's mother organized everything: she liked things to be done right, and made it quite clear she thought I was too young to understand. Her wedding present to me had been a book: How To Be a Good Wife, which she said would teach me everything I needed to know. I still have it somewhere, old, and well-thumbed. I learnt every page by heart.
My apron strings catch on the kitchen door handle and I stop to free myself, noticing a smudge low down on one of the panes of glass. When he was a child, Kylan's finger marks were always there, like ghosts. Now, it looks as if someone with dirty hands has smeared them across the whole bottom panel. I fetch the polish from under the sink, feeling strange that I haven't noticed something so obvious earlier, and rub until the glass comes clean. You must persevere when cleaning glass, mirrors and silver. The smudges cling on: they do not want to be removed.
As I scrub at the panel, an image forms like a developing photograph. Hector nervous, standing over me, telling me I have missed a spot, to hurry up, to make sure the house is perfect before his mother arrives. Before we were married, she used to visit on a Sunday to clean the house and cook Hector's dinners for the week ahead, kept in Tupperware containers in the fridge. The first time I met her, Hector had insisted that we clean the house from top to bottom, and though it seemed pointless to me if she was to do it all over again, I did as he asked. Everything needed to be perfect, he repeated, she would notice the slightest mark. It was only later, his mother tutting under her breath as she corrected my work while Hector stood with his fists clenched, that I saw he had involved me in a lifelong battle between them.
When we heard the doorbell, he pulled off my apron and rubber gloves and we went into the hall together. I see him now, telling me to smile, as if it's happening all over again. The way she looked me up and down, shook my hand and smiled tightly. She asked me where I was from, where I went to school. Did I want children? Hector answered for me. I only nodded.
I hear their voices, through the kitchen door. I am on the other side, out of sight.
'She's very young, Hector.'
'She looks younger than she is.'
'Where did you meet her?'
'We met when I took that holiday to the island.'
'Does she live locally?'
'She's staying here for the time being.'
She breathed in sharply. 'Staying here? How long for?'
Hector sighed. 'I don't know, Mother,' he said. 'Her parents died recently and she doesn't want to be on her own.'
'Well, if you're sure. It just all seems a bit fast. But then, you're not getting any younger.' A pause. 'She's very thin. Is she ill?'
'She's been through a tough time, with her parents. She's a good girl.' There was a silence. 'I'm going to marry her.'
Now, I am here still, standing with my head resting against the closed kitchen door. My heart is hammering. The words seem to have come out of a place I don't go any more. Yet I heard them, as clear as if I was hearing them in that moment. I can't lose the feeling of something in the wrong place.
I go to the tall wooden cabinet in the hall where I keep my china dolls. Hector has bought me a new one each year since we've been married. Twenty-five dolls for twenty-five years. I keep them away from dust, looking at them only through the glass panes, opening the door as little as possible to keep them preserved. Brunettes, blondes and redheads, each face perfect in its own way. My favourite is a blonde-haired doll, sitting in pride of place in the middle row, her perfect curls and pale grey eyes catching the light. I look for her now and for a moment I am confused by what I see. She is facing the wrong way. I feel my throat tighten. Hector knows not to touch my dolls. I wonder if this is his idea of a joke.
Opening the cabinet, I pull on my white gloves. Lifting her out, I tilt her up and down, watching her eyes flick open and shut. I trace her lips with my fingers, always slightly parted, always smiling.
I hear something on the other side of the front door. Startled, I drop her. Looking over my shoulder, I bend to pick her up, my heart thumping. She has landed on her head, but there is no visible damage. There is a noise at the front door again, and my head rings, as if it was me who took the fall. Slipping her back into the cabinet, I walk quickly through to the kitchen, shutting the door behind me. I slide a knife from the draining board and wait.
The front door creaks open, and then shuts. Steps travel slowly across the hallway. I let my breath escape.
I open my eyes. It's Hector, standing on the other side of the kitchen doorway, watching me.
We watch each other through the thick glass panels: we don't smile. At the bottom, I see his brown leather brogues, the laces tied. In the middle, his corduroy trousers are pressed stiffly, his hands in his pockets. At the top: his calm blue eyes; the steady line of his mouth, slightly curved down at the corners; his greying hair brushed sparsely. He has deep creases in the skin of his cheeks.
He sees: slippers, the bottom of my black everyday trousers. The neat red apron, a pale pink cashmere jumper, the knife glinting by my side. My make-up-less face, no doubt severe in the bright daylight. My hair tied into a neat dull chignon at the back of my head, dark blonde with the beginnings of grey. Before he arrives home, freshen your make-up; put a ribbon in your hair.
I risk a smile: as he smiles back, the lines around his eyes shift. Now that he's here, I feel better, and almost silly that I worked myself up before, thinking someone was breaking in. I turn, slipping the knife under the surface of the water in the sink. Hector opens the door.
'Hi,' he says.
I glance at the kitchen clock. Twelve thirty-five.
'You're home early,' I say.
Hector nods. 'No classes this afternoon,' he says.
I have to look away from him, down into the water. I begin to wash the knife. The soap slips off the gleaming metal as I slide it onto the draining board.
Hector is still standing there, watching me.
'How was your day?' I ask.
'It smells of smoke in here,' he says.
'I burnt some toast.' I keep my hands below the surface of the water. 'Have you been touching my dolls?'
'What do you mean?' His voice is slow, careful.
'My dolls. Someone has been moving them.'
He comes towards me; I stay still. He raises his hand and I feel the warmth of his palm on my forehead, dry and papery.
'Are you feeling all right?' he asks.
'I'm fine,' I say, opening my eyes.
'Not still feeling sick?'
'Have you taken your medication?'
I shake my head.
Hector opens the cupboard above the sink. I hear the rattle of the bottle.
'Open your mouth,' he says.
I let my jaw go slack. The pink pill moves past my eye line, and when I feel it on my tongue, I swallow. He gestures, and I open my mouth again.
He checks. 'Good girl,' he says, putting his hand at the base of my neck. 'I'm going to have a shower.' He turns to leave.
I pick up the knife from the draining board and begin to wash it again.
Without looking up, I listen to him climb the stairs. Once I am sure he is gone, I let my legs go, sinking against the kitchen counter. Cupping a hand to my mouth, I expel the small pill, letting it drop into a gap between the skirting board and the floor. It has been so long now since I remember actually swallowing one.
I haven't mentioned it to Hector. He would want to have a discussion, to remind me of how I get without them. Just the thought of it gives me a headache and I put my hands up to my temples, rubbing at them, pushing the pain away.
The last time I stopped taking my pills, Kylan must have been eleven or twelve. He had just started getting the bus from the end of the lane with Vara, his friend from the farm. I found that now he was away more, at senior school with its additional after-school activities, there was less for me to do in the house. When he was younger, I was so busy, I barely had time to think: he was always there, wanting me. But now, there was only the washing, ironing, dusting, and making his dinner. I had already had time to make stacks of stockpiled meals, waiting in the freezer. I started to look for the shadows of dust that fell on things.
But it wasn't just that there was less to do and the house was so quiet. I felt him slipping away from me. In the evenings, I would meet him from the bus and ask him questions as we walked home, but he wanted to talk less and less. He kept more to himself, and I missed the shape of his child's body, grasping after me. One day, he told me he didn't need me to collect him from the bus stop any more. I said that I liked to, but he insisted that he could walk down the lane by himself. Hector said it was normal, that he was growing up. But it was easy for him to say: Kylan had started talking to him more.
So I stopped taking my pills because I wanted something to happen. I suppose I wanted him to notice me again. I almost welcomed the weariness that came without them: the heavy darkness I dimly remembered which begin to follow me around again. I would be doing a job in the kitchen, and before I knew it, I would be out on the porch step, numbly watching the horizon. Kylan would come in from school and find me there. Dinner was never ready, and his bed hadn't been made. Sometimes I cried without understanding why, and couldn't stop even with Kylan's warm body against mine, his hair against my nose. I remember clinging on to him, whispering in his ear, waiting for it to pass.
Eventually, Kylan told Hector, and he got it out of me that I had stopped taking my pills. He said it wasn't good for Kylan to have to do everything himself. Children need order and routine: to be surrounded by stability. That's when he started to check up on me.
'Some people just need a little help, Marta,' he said. 'It's nothing to be ashamed of.'
And now, Kylan isn't here again and the silent house makes me want to scream. He isn't coming back this time, and there's no reason for me to hold it together. There is even less to do these days. Skipping my pills is like an experiment, one I allow to continue because in my worst moments, I long for something bad to happen. If it does, maybe Kylan will come back and help to take care of me.
And I like the warm, strong feeling I get from fooling Hector. It is better than feeling nothing at all.
Thinking I hear him on the landing, I make myself get up and take out the ingredients for bread. I stand, watching the neat packages of flour, yeast, butter, waiting for the whirr of the bathroom fan, the sounds of the shower. I want to seem busy, but the pressure of Hector above me makes me feel tired and after some time, I put the ingredients away again, into their proper places.
I check my watch: five minutes to one. In the hallway, Hector's mahogany walking stick is propped against the wall. A recent addition, since his knee operation, a reminder that he is getting old. The doctor said it was only temporary, but I have a feeling Hector likes it, that it makes him feel distinguished.
I pick up the bundle of letters lying on the doormat and dust the front of them. On one of the envelopes there is a faint brown smudge, which I ignore.
The names on the letters do not seem familiar.
Mrs Marta Bjornstad. Mr and Mrs Hector Bjornstad. Mr and Mrs H. C. Bjornstad.
Before I leave the house, I put all the letters, even the ones with just my name, into a pile on the hall table for Hector. Let your husband take care of the correspondence and finances of the household. Make it your job to be pretty and gay.
When my watch reads one o'clock, I pull on my red tartan coat and navy headscarf and leave the house.
Copyright 2013 by Emma Chapman
Meet the Author
Emma Chapman was born in 1985 and grew up in Manchester, England. She studied English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, followed by a Masters in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. After university, she travelled solo in Scandinavia, where she learned to camp, bathe in fjords, and carry everything she needed. She is currently living in Perth, Western Australia. How To Be a Good Wife is her first novel.
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With an intriguing setting and the unavoidable tension beneath the flat, grey surface, Emma Chapman has created a memorable, if not comfortable story of a marriage in dissolution. Marta is the much younger wife, and provides much of the narrative to the story. Living in a nondescript Scandanavian town she is having several experiences that she cannot rationalize, although her husband Hector manages to do just that. Throughout the story, we are given flashes of Marta, and her earlier years: none of these portray Hector in a remotely positive light. He comes to feel, for me, much like the asp in the corner, waiting to strike as the victim is constantly trying to appease its anger. Add to this a very odd relationship between Hector and his mother, and Marta’s constant repetition of the chapter leads from the book How to be a Good Wife, a handbook for new brides with a feel of a 1950’s black and white television show that was the mother-in-laws gift on their wedding. Cold and flat, with moments of color that are provided by her reminiscences or possible hallucinations, the story maintains that muted tone: obviously depressed or drugged, Marta’s narration and voice are heavy and weigh on the reader. I say drugged as she often mentions Hector’s insistence that she take her medication, almost policing her dosage: when she manages to avoid detection and hide rather than take the meds, her thoughts are jumbled and frenetic, but there is life there. Throughout the story, Marta is visited by a young, blonde girl. Unable to determine if this is reality, a memory or a ghost; readers are left to determine who is right in their declaration. There is a sinister underlay to Hector and his dismissal of all Marta sees, thinks or utters in thought. His feel and tone suggest he is manipulating situations for his own easier existence, but when Marta can’t even find a distinction between fact and fiction, memory and hope there are no easy answers for the reader either. This is a very uncomfortable read, one that you will either read straight through to be done with it, or read in small doses with lighter fare to break up the heaviness in your heart, it was a book well worth reading. The author has managed to bring together all of the elements for a torturing psychological thriller, yet not provided a clear end point that wraps the story with one definitive conclusion. For a debut offering, this is a stunner. I received an eBook copy from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Well, if you weren't depressed to begin with you will be by the time to finish reading this book. It's a bit difficult to follow to start. Then I wondered what it was about-ghost story or mentally ill woman. I believe in ghosts but not in this book. She became terrified of her husband, let down by her son and remembered her past. It was a hard book to read. It was not really a book for me. I read it through to see how it ended. Don't take this review to heart. Give it a read and see if you liked it more than I did.
In a drug induced haze, the best Marta can achieve is to follow the rule book of How to be a Good Wife. Her life is not actually lived and she feels out of sync with everything around her. Her husband controls her life, her rule book controls her actions, but when Marta begins to have sudden flashes of a young girl, she dares to NOT take her medications, hoping to feel more clarity. Through moments of lucidity, Marta seems almost normal, but in her drug induced haze, she is like an entity not quite in any world at all. Still, she questions who the girl is. Is she real or just a figment of her mind, as she is told. Who can she trust? What will she discover? Is Marta losing her mind or has the world forsaken her to a half-life existence? Emma Chapman writes with stark sense of maturity, letting her words create a bleak atmosphere that feels almost shrouded from Marta. Her characters are equally vague, to underscore the main character’s lack of full consciousness and understanding. I was drawn through this story like a ghost visiting from another world, connected, yet safe from Marta’s world. This haunting tale will stay with you long after you close the book. Emma Chapman is, in a word - GIFTED - as an author who should be watched. I received an ARC edition of How to be a Good Wife in exchange for my honest review from St. Martin's Press.
I get all excited when I 'discover' an author and I can't wait to share my find with other readers. How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman is one of those discoveries. Marta Bjornstad has been married to her husband Hector for twenty five years. She lives a defined life, keeping house for her school teacher husband. She cleans, cooks and makes sure everything is 'just right' for Hector. Her mother-in-law Matilda thoughtfully gave her the book "How To Be a Good Wife" as a wedding gift. It's chock full of wonderful advice.... "Your husband belongs in the outside world. The house is your domain and your responsibility." "Let your husband take care of the correspondence and finances of the household. Make it your job to be pretty and gay." Marta's son has moved away from home and she is even more lonely and isolated than before. She decides to stop taking the pink pills the doctor has prescribed. Is stopping the pills causing her to lose time? See things out of the corner of her eye? And are the memories that are intruding on her real or imagined? Absolutely delicious! Chapman does a spectacular job of drawing us into Marta's confusion, uncertainty and fear as she questions all that she believes and everything that she knows. I had my suspicions as Chapman slowly dropped crumbs along the way. The tension builds as Marta inches closer and closer to.....to what? I was compelled to keep turning one more page and another and another....I devoured How To Be a Good Wife in a day. What an excellent, excellent debut. I'll be watching for Chapman's next novel. Chapman found inspiration for some of her instructional book's quotes How to Be a Good Wife - "originally published in the 1930s for middle-class British couples, and filled with witty and charming aphorisms on how wives and husbands should treat each other." Fans of S. J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep or Alice Laplante's Turn of Mind would enjoy this new author.
I was really hoping to purchase a book to read for a few minutes daily until it was finished but I really couldn't stop with this one. A well told story.
Slow and repetitive, and the end result wasn't satisfying at all. Felt like a waste of time to read.
This chilling, tension-filled debut by British writer Emma Chapman will find readers unable to stop reading and pondering many questions. The setting is a small Scandinavian village where Marta Bjornstad lives with Hector, her school teacher husband who is 20 years older than she. Apparently Hector had rescued her when she was orphaned at the age of 18. Her situation at that time was deemed desperate, although any details of her condition were lost to Marta. Amnesia? They married despite the disapproval of Matilda, Hector’s controlling mother whose wedding gift to Marta was a guide to married life entitled How To Be A Good Wife. The wisdom of this small volume seemed to lie in being subservient to your husband and acquiescing to his every wish. We meet Marta when she has stopped taking her medication, started smoking, is suffering from empty-nest syndrome and experiencing visions. Her only child, Kylan, has grown and gone to work in the city where he becomes engaged to Katya, a young woman who for some reason reminds Marta of herself when she was younger. Her vision is usually that of a girl, apparently a ballet dancer, who she sees not only in dreams but in actual time as well. The girl seems to beckon to Marta, wanting to tell her something. It is at this point that the reader begins to wonder if these visions are actually suppressed memories, but who and why? In addition to being an accomplished writer, Chapman has created a compelling story of the effects of trauma and the sometimes debilitating influences of marriage. I eagerly await her next novel.
An okay read. Marta exasparated me and the ending was not what I expected. It took her twenty five years to get to this point?
This was one of the worst books I have ever wasted my time reading. The narrator, the primary character in the book, was confused and confusing. None of the characters were likable, except for the son, who I pitied. I plowed through the book, hoping to finally come to some meaning or plot sense. Didn't happen.
makes you think for sure
I enjoyed this book. I was very interested in seeing how it ended.... However, the ending left me unsatisfied, I wish we were given more information.... I guess we are meant to think what we want...(without giving you the ending I cannot elaborate). I do think it is a book worth reading!
Emma Chapman's debut novel "How to be a Good Wife" is a well written, compelling read with many layers, all of which revolve around the main character, Marta. Marta has been married to Hector for a long time. In fact, all of her adult life has been spent catering to him, their marriage, and their son Kylan. Now with Hector becoming distant and Kylan living in the city with his girlfriend, she has a lot of time on her own. But time on her own is not what Marta wants or needs. As the book unfolds, the author reveals more and more about Marta, and what we learn, or do not learn as the case may be, is what made Marta's story such a compelling read for me. On first impression, Marta's life seems to be comfortable and mundane. She has reached middle age, raised her son, taken care of her husband. On closer examination, though, there are gaps and inconsistencies. Why does she keep finding cigarettes in her pocket with memory of smoking them? What is the medication that she has stopped taking? Before long Marta's story peels off into a couple of directions with no real explanation of what is fact and what is fiction. These different aspects of her story continue all the way to the conclusion of the story which I did not see coming at all. All of this ambiguity in the story may set some readers on edge, but I found it interesting and thought provoking. I also found the ambiguity to be a great discussion point among readers. In fact, when discussing this book with others, I was extremely interested to see how many different ways to interpret the story people were able to find. All that discussion and differing viewpoints only enriched the story for me, enough so that I wasn't upset that the author ended the story without answering the most important questions posed throughout. That is not to say that I didn't find the ending disappointing, but my disappointment was in Marta and her choices, not with the story or the author. I would definitely recommend this book as a thought provoking read, with one caveat. Keep an open mind as you read it and wait until you are finished to draw any conclusions. Then discuss away with others and see what conclusions they came to and how they arrived at them. I guarantee the discussion will be lively. My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for making this book available to me in exchange for my review.
I do not review books but this one has stuck with me and it has been weeks since I finished it. While it may not have ended the way I thought it should and I was not granted the righteous satisfaction of having the protaginist get his just desserts, the novel is expertly crafted and the main character does indeed embody the phrase "How to be a Good Wife."
I agree with all the reviews i've read so far. I am depressed at the turmoil in this womans life. The ending was brilliantly written, as well as the whole book but it left me with many answers. I am hoping for a sequel.
There was definitely something about this book that kept me reading, even though I wasn't sure what it was at first. The writing was brilliant, and so vividly done I cannot believe that this is her debut novel and I cannot wait to read what she puts out next, I just know it is going to be great. If you have not read this book yet, I highly suggest that you do. We meet Marta right away and there is something about her right from the very beginning that you almost find haunting, like she is in a fog. At the surface she is a typical housewife going about her daily routine, but we soon come to find out that she is anything but typical. She has secrets that even she does not know that she has. We also meet her husband Hector shortly after the novel begins (he is a teacher), and I could tell that there was also something off about him almost from the beginning as everything seemed too "normal" between the two of them. I loved the way that the story was built and the pacing was just right. Marta starts to see visions of a young blonde girl, and it is more than halfway through the novel before we find out what the significance of that is, and it kept me reading at a fast pace to get to that moment, it was perfectly done. There was so much in the first half of the novel that kept you wondering what it all meant, and I promise they will all be answered and more, and it is so worth it! We also meet her son Kylan, and he has recently in the last few months moved away from home, and she misses him terribly. The first time that he brings his girlfriend home to meet his parents didn't go anywhere near as well as he hoped it would, and that is all thanks to Marta and her visions that she is having and her wanting him to come home and live there so that she can still take care of him as she did when he was a little boy. I think that this is something every Mother can understand to an extent, however, Marta takes it to the extreme. The name of the novel comes from the book that she was given as a wedding present from her new Mother-In-Law on the day of her wedding, and some of the suggestions in there just seem so archaic! It is something that I could see women reading in the 40's or 50's for sure, but it just does not apply in today's society, however, Marta still remembers some of the suggestions in there, and still follows them on a daily basis. If you are looking for a haunting, chilling read that will leave you thinking about it for days after this one is for you! This one gets a 4/5 from me!
Is this sopposed to de scary?
Highly recommend this one. You want so much for her and the ending is sad. It does leave you wondering whether she was crazy or not and whether her memories were actually real or not. I wanted to know so much more about that. I hope the author writes a sequel letting the readers know how she got to where she was and answer all the questions that were left unanswered in this book. That would be awesome.
What a bore!
Very much the page turner. I really wpuld like to say more but I don't want to spoil anything. The book left me googling.
A real page turner