Day 945: Literary Wives! How to Be a Good Wife

Cover for How to Be a Good WifeToday is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in modern fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Ariel of One Little Library
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kate of Kate Rae Davis
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

My Review

Marta has stopped taking her medication. She has been on it for years, and the only other time she stopped, she suffered symptoms of severe depression. This time she keeps glimpsing a young blond girl. Although the girl doesn’t speak to her, she seems to be trying to tell her something.

Marta has been married to Hector for many years, and they have a grown son. Marta seems inordinately upset because their son has left home to go to college. Her marriage to Hector seems almost cartoonishly old-fashioned. Her mother-in-law gave her a book about being a good wife when she married Hector, a book that was out of date when she got it. But she has tried to follow it. Aside from behaving like a 50’s housewife, she has been set limits by Hector beyond which she is not allowed to drive. It is not safe, he claims.

The more we learn about Marta’s life, the more disturbing this novel seems. Are we to believe that Marta is descending into madness, or does it seem as if her memories of her past life are oddly murky and she’s finally remembering?

I’m not sure if we’re to believe that Marta is an unreliable narrator or not. Certainly, no one in the novel ultimately believes her, but I do. I found this novel chilling and completely compelling.

What does the book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

Caution: My answer to this question involves spoilers, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading now.

I don’t believe we can generalize at all from this novel, because Marta’s is a peculiar circumstance. If we believe her, then she was captured as a young girl and held captive by Hector for two years under the house. She eventually escaped, but he recaptured her, kept her drugged, and created false memories for her to convince her she was a different person. She has lived as a drugged captive, trying to please her husband and feeling love only for her son.

Again, this is a novel about power, and Hector holds all the power in this relationship. The only power Marta has is in subversive minor disobedience, like smoking and pretending to take her pills. Although Marta finally escapes, it is at a terrible cost, since no one believes her. Are we to believe there is really no record of her kidnapping or that they either didn’t look hard enough or she is delusional? I know what I believe, but you may not agree.

Related Posts

Before I Go to Sleep

The Happy Marriage

Finders Keepers

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15 thoughts on “Day 945: Literary Wives! How to Be a Good Wife

  1. thatssojacob August 1, 2016 / 10:11 am

    Yeah, first comment! Great book review. Come visit my blog today, I haven’t seen you around in a while!

  2. Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors August 1, 2016 / 10:24 am

    I believe Chapman doesn’t want the reader to feel as if s/he “knows” which is the truth… However, I found this so creepy because I could easily believe it of Hector. He was a mess, but then given his mother’s personality, who wouldn’t be? 🙂 I could easily see it going either way. The interactive website is a bit interesting. You do get to read the inscription Marta left in the book she gifted Katya. This was a slog for me to read until about 188 pages. 😦 Then it finally became interesting…

    • Emily J. August 1, 2016 / 4:18 pm

      I agree. I think the author wanted to obscure the truth, but I really wanted to know more!

      • whatmeread August 1, 2016 / 7:01 pm

        Did you ever see Carlos Saura’s Carmen? Probably way before your time.

      • Naomi August 5, 2016 / 10:07 pm

        So did I! 🙂

  3. Ariel Bartlett August 1, 2016 / 10:51 am

    I completely agree. Even if we’re supposed to think of Marta/Elise as an unreliable narrator, I believed her anyway. Hector was just too creepy.

    And I agree that it’s hard to generalize anything about “wives” in general from this book. But it was a fascinating read!

  4. Emily J. August 1, 2016 / 4:20 pm

    I love your description of their marriage as cartoonishly old-fashioned. I think that part made it hard to believe the entire narrative at first, but with the addition of the creepy past, maybe that’s what clinches it as true. Why would anybody live this way, unless they were being drugged and had been kidnapped? I also appreciate your observation about power. I did like that despite her “craziness” or hallucinations, she was claiming power in a way that made sense to her. From this perspective, I don’t think it matters if her memories were true or not; she was acting autonomously and claiming power in a way that made sense to her, even up to the end.

    • whatmeread August 1, 2016 / 7:02 pm

      Yes. I didn’t quite go that far in my own thinking, but I think you’re right.

    • Naomi August 5, 2016 / 10:09 pm

      Interesting point – I hadn’t thought of that…

  5. Carolyn O August 2, 2016 / 6:37 pm

    I love the discussion going on with this book–I wish I’d had time to read it!

  6. Kate Rae Davis August 2, 2016 / 6:40 pm

    You said it’s hard to generalize from this novel, but your final paragraph does a fantastic job in summarizing so many marriages: one person (usually the man) holds most of the power; the other subverts power in minor disobediences; true escape comes at a terrible cost.

    We only need to look up the most recent spousal abuse states to see that that’s many women’s experience of marriage.

    • whatmeread August 3, 2016 / 7:20 am

      Of course, this is probably a purposeful exaggeration of this power dynamic, to make a similar point.

  7. Naomi August 5, 2016 / 10:12 pm

    I believed Marta, too, but once I thought about it, there were so many things to make me doubt and wonder. I liked this book, but I didn’t like not knowing the real answer!

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