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Lucy Karsten

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How to Be a Good Wife

Posted: 19/09/2012 14:21

I was on a plane to Greece once, and, having drawn the short straw, was sat next to my Mother. (My Mother hates flying, and spends all plane journeys clawing at the arm of the person next to her. It is entirely irrelevant if they are known to her or not). In a bid to distract her, I showed her the cover of the book I was reading.

'This girl's the same age as you,' She said as she finished reading the blurb. 'What?' I said, disbelievingly. 'No way. This book is huge. Several people have recommended it to me.' '1985,' My Mother stated firmly, pointing to the author bio. 'Well,' I blustered. 'She was probably in the year above.'

I started the book pre-disposed to hate it, and read it through a haze of increasing envy and rage. It was very good, and she probably wasn't in the year above at all, but had just spent more of her time writing, and less watching ANTM.

Anyway, it's happened again. 'How to be a good wife' is written by Emma Chapman, who was born in Manchester in 1985.
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Infuriatingly, at 27 years old (I stand by my claim that she must be in the year above), Chapman has perfectly captured the voice of a long-married Mother of an adult child. Our storyteller is Marta, who lives in a remote Scandinavian location, and is finding it increasingly difficult, now that her son is grown-up and has moved out, to find things to fill the day with.

An outsider to the village, in which her husband Hector has lived all his life, she has recently secretly stopped taking her medication, although she dutifully pretends to swallow the pill Hector doles out to her every morning. Between her daily walks to the market (where the other wives refuse to acknowledge her, treating her as an interloper although she has lived there for more than 25 years), she shares oddly disassociated memories of her life with Hector:

'So how did you two meet?' She asked.

I looked at the woman's bony red ear, inches away from my mouth. I could feel Hector's eyes on me from where he was standing with the other men. His face was serious. I didn't want to do the wrong thing. to cause a scene and embarrass him when he had been so kind to me. When I tried to think back to meeting Hector, there was nothing there, like trying to see past a thick curtain. I remembered the words he had told me.

'We met on holiday by the sea,' I said. 'I was swimming, and Hector saved me from drowning.'

There is something about the pared-down prose, the increasingly ominous isolation and the sense of unease that our narrator feels that saves the story from melodrama- instead the reader, trapped with a sympathetic yet unreliable narrator, begins to align themselves ever more closely to Marta's position. This is a tremendous book. The fact that it's her debut novel only increases my certainty that Emma Chapman was in the year above.

 

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