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How To Be a Good Wife: A Novel Hardcover – October 15, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (October 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250018196
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250018199
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)

From Booklist

Much like the unreliable narrator of S. J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep (2011), to which this debut novel bears a strong resemblance, the narrator of Chapman’s clever chiller, which is set in an unnamed Scandinavian country, seems uncertain of her own history and circumstances. Marta stopped taking her medication after her son left home and is being visited by a series of images—or are they repressed memories?—of a young girl, always hungry and dressed in ill-fitting, increasingly filthy pajamas, who is confined to a small room. Marta’s husband, Hector, 20 years her senior, tells a romantic story of their first meeting, but Marta is beginning to suspect that the stories Hector tells are fabrications. The one constant is her referencing of the marriage manual How to Be a Good Wife, whose pithy maxims (“Let your husband take care of the finances. Make it your job to be pretty”) read like the diary of a mad housewife. Although some may find the ambiguous ending frustrating, others will be drawn into this claustrophobic examination of the meaning of marriage. --Joanne Wilkinson

More About the Author

www.emmajchapman.com

Emma Chapman was born in 1985 and grew up in Manchester. She studied English Literature at Edinburgh University, followed by a Masters in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. After university, she travelled in Scandinavia. She spent four years living in Perth, Australia, and currently lives in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By 319 VINE VOICE on August 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When the story begins we learn that the female protagonist, Marta Bjornstad, has been doing things completely out of character, such as suddenly finding herself smoking cigarettes, when she is a non-smoker and not remembering how or where she got the cigarettes. In addition to that, she is constantly having visions of a ghost-like young girl, who she feels is trying to tell her something. Her only child has just left for college and she is left pining for him and reminicing about how much he needed her when he was a child. Meanwhile, Marta has been lying to her husband and son that she is taking medication daily that she has been prescribed, so through most of the story the reader is trying to figure out if this woman is crazy, delusional or if something more sinister is happening. She spends a lot of time reflecting on her marriage and early motherhood, but there is much about her life that she doesn't remember. As a result from early trauma, Marta has suffered significant memory loss and she doesn't have any memories of her childhood, her parents or how she met her husband. All she knows is that her much older husband found her in a terrible state and nursed her back to health. Throw in an overbearing mother-in-law who is constantly trying to run Marta's home and what you have is an eerie story that has you trying to figure out what is really going on to the very end. This is an intriguing, chilling story with an ending that took my breath away.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Half Fast Farmer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It is not possible to discuss this book without some spoilers. I will try to be vague.

I curled up to read this on a rain Sunday afternoon. Sunday evening, I threw it against the wall and stomped off. I have rarely been so frustrated and disappointed with a book.

The problem is that you have two options reading this. You can believe Marta or you can disbelieve her. If you disbelieve her you have an unreliable narrator telling the story of a woman losing her mind. If that is the case, it is done at an excruciatingly slow speed. The revelations are tiny and doled out in the exhaustive narration of banalities. If she is an unreliable narrator, this book is not creepy. It is the tedious descent into total insanity.

Or she is telling the truth.

And if she is telling the truth this becomes the most frustrating and disappointing story. If Marta is right, then this is a monster story told for the comfort of monsters. The evil is never answered. The son who Marta so venerates is useless. The monsters have arranged Marta's world so neatly that she never escapes in a meaningful and gratifying way. When she first goes to her sons apartment she says that she is going to the police in the morning. She finds time to do a great deal but not that or anything that would save her.

In the end she is either a hopeless lunatic or the most completely broken person imaginable. It makes her story hard to invest in. This is a real rip off when you have already invested in her and her story.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Booklover! on November 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Entertaining, well written fiction seems to be exploding out of the Land Down Under. This is the third debut novel I have read by a young Australian novelist and it doesn't disappoint in plot, style, editing or language. The other two books are the Night Guest and Burial Rites.

The thrill of How to Be a Good Wife is not what happens to Marta but rather the revelation and discovery of her true identity and sadly her inability to think clearly enough to truly seek her freedom. Careful reading of the author's notes at the back of the book indicates that a sequel as other reviewers have mentioned would be impossible.

Highly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nancy on November 21, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was more than 60% through the book before it engaged me. Page after page of a meek housewife hallucinating (or remembering?) and hints of a dark and troubled past.Her husband begs her to take her pills - he even puts them in her mouth but she doesn't swallow them because she wants to come to grips with the strong images and flashbacks that torment her. I was rooting for her to take her pills just like her husband so I wouldn't have to read any more of this. But then we start to believe that Marta is not hallucinating but rather remembering real events that happened before her marriage - terrible events involving her husband. The reader starts to believe that maybe Marta is not "crazy" but rather the victim of a terrible crime...
The ending is terribly disappointing - completely unsatisfying. I understand that the author wanted to explore the complex psychology of memory, but I want good guys to prevail and bad guys to be punished. And I didn't get that satisfaction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MyBookishWays on May 20, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Marta Bjornstad has been married to her husband Hector for almost 25 years. He’s a respected and well liked teacher, and Marta took great joy in raising their son, Kylan. But Kylan is grown now, and Marta is starting to feel as if her carefully constructed existence is beginning to crumble. She’s having strange visions of a young girl, and things around the house seem out of place. Could it be because she’s experiencing what every parent experiences when their children leave home? Could it be the stagnation of a long marriage? Or could it be something else? How to Be a Good Wife is told in first person by Marta, and she intersperses her narrative with quotes from “How to Be a Good Wife”, given to her early in her marriage by Hector’s intimidating and overbearing mother. Passages like “Make your home a place of peace and order.”, and “Let your husband take care of the correspondence and finances of the household. Make it your job to be pretty and gay.” You get the picture. Hopelessness and melancholy seem to surround Marta from the beginning, and every time Hector makes an appearance, there’s a definite sense of foreboding, although in the beginning, he never quite does anything to invite suspicion. Somehow the author manages to make every day occurrences seem anything but banal, but you can’t help but wonder if Marta is a reliable narrator. However, the unfolding events give light to something quite sinister and ultimately devastating.

This gothic little creeper was a one-sitting read for me. There is a pervading sense of dread that runs throughout the book, and the author manages to inject menace into the most ordinary of things.
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