How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman

19th January 2013

I bought this book yesterday at work. It’s the amazing début novel by Emma Chapman, who studied with me on the MA in Creative Writing back in 2009…was it really that long ago? Lately I haven’t been in the habit of finishing books in one sitting, as I used to (probably because I feel guilty about neglecting my own novel), but How to be a Good Wife was impossible to put down. It tells the story of a woman we are introduced to as Marta, whose ordered and placid life begins to unravel when she stops taking the medication given to her by her husband. The reader soon realises that Marta’s past may not be as innocuous as it seems. Neither is Hector, her rather sinister husband. I feel privileged to have seen the book in its early stages and am deeply impressed at how skilfully the simple narrative handles the complex emotional consequences of post-traumatic shock.

A small cast of characters allows for some excellent characterisation, and the setting is perfect. The empty, echoing beauty of Scandinavia rather brilliantly complements the solitude in which Marta lives, teetering between past and present. Her painful, eerie journey towards a possible truth is quite chillingly evoked through sharp dialogue and stark imagery. Though a fairly short novel, it clings to you after the end; I kept wondering what effect the conclusion would have on the other characters, and couldn’t help ‘writing’ more of the story in my head. I don’t mean of course that the story required further development. Its ending was such that you didn’t want to pull away, to lay it down. You wanted to talk about it, reflect upon it – and that is the mark of a story well-told. That and its legacy- a distinct and unique haunting. Highly recommended.

Here’s an interview and podcast with Emma, who talks about her inspiration for the novel and reads an extract.

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