Saturday, 1 December 2012

How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman

Picador have published some of my very favourite books over the past few years, the Picador editors seem to be able to sniff out a winner instinctively; Emma Donoghue, Anna Raverat and Alice Sebold are three of my favourite authors, and if Emma Chapman's debut novel How To Be A Good Wife is anything to go by, then she is definitely going to join that club.

How To Be A Good Wife will be published in January 2013.

Emma Chapman wrote this novel whilst completing her Royal Holloway MA in Creative Writing, incredibly she is only 27 years old.  I find this incredible because this debut novel is one of the most accomplished and clever pieces of writing that I've read for a long, long time.

Marta and Hector have been married for many years, they have a grown up son who recently moved to the city.  Marta has always tried to be a good wife and took her instructions from the book that her mother-in-law gave to her just after she married Hector.

The book is an old-fashioned marriage manual entitled How To Be A Good Wife.   Marta misses her son Kylan so much, the house is empty without him, her days are endless with no son to care for.  Life seems to be unravelling around her and she begins to see visions of a small blonde girl.  Hector is worried about her, she's stopped taking her tablets, she's hallucinating and acting very strangely.   It's clear that Marta has suffered with mental health problems for many years and that Hector has looked after his wife ...... but is the small blonde girl a symptom of her illness, or is she a real memory?

Emma Chapman
Emma Chapman has written a short novel (just over 160 pages), that conveys such a feeling of menace and chill, yet is complex and clever.  Marta is such an isolated character, she has no contact with anyone outside of her immediate family and lives in a desolate spot, away from the town, shops and neighbours.  Most of the time, she lives within her own head - interacting with her visions and her memories far more than with any living human being.

Is Marta an unreliable narrator?  At times I thought so, but there were also times during the story that I believed her wholeheartedly - and that is the beauty of this novel.  Even after reading the last few lines, the reader will sit and contemplate the whole story, and yet you will never be quite sure just what is the truth.  This is a story and these are characters that will stay in the mind for a long time, a little like the characters that  live in Marta's head.