Review 1358: Literary Wives! A Separation

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in 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!

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

The unnamed narrator of A Separation receives a call from her mother-in-law, Isabella. Isabella has been trying to contact her son Christopher, the narrator’s husband, and demands to know where he is. What Isabella doesn’t know is that the narrator has been separated from Christopher for six months because of his infidelities. She has promised him to tell no one, which has become awkward because for three months she has been living with another man, Yvan.

Isabella can’t believe the narrator doesn’t know where Christopher is. His mother has traced him to a hotel in rural southern Greece and demands that the narrator go there to find out what is going on. For some reason, Isabella is alarmed.

The narrator makes some inexplicable decisions during this novel, almost as though she is obeying instinct rather than thinking. The first one is in not telling Isabella that she and Christopher are separated. The second is in actually doing what Isabella asks.

When she arrives at the hotel, she finds that Christopher is indeed staying there, researching a book on death rituals. However, he has been away for a few days. The narrator decides to wait for his return. Soon, something happens that forces her to re-evaluate her relationship with Christopher.

This novel is a carefully observed work about the complexities of marriage, love, betrayal, and loss. As the narrator, with her secret, is forced more and more back into the role of wife, she uncovers feelings about her husband that she didn’t know she had. Although a fairly simple story plotwise, the novel delves into the layers beneath the facades of marriage. This is a much more intelligent, sophisticated look at marriage than we have yet read in this club.

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

This novel is one of the most complex and true-to-life that we have read for this club, while not really looking at what the marriage was like while the couple were still together. Even though the narrator considers her marriage over, and in fact, goes to Greece planning to ask for a divorce, she finds that the bonds of marriage affect her more strongly than she would have guessed. She finds herself forced back into the role of wife, for example, experiencing the dichotomy of having to make decisions she doesn’t feel she has the right to. The situation forces her to re-evaluate her relation to Christopher and his family. She is bound in ways she didn’t expect.

Literary Wives logoEven though Christopher was the one who strayed and her relationship with Yvan didn’t begin until after they separated., she feels she has betrayed him in some way through that relationship.

I wonder about Kitamura’s decision to make the narrator the only unnamed character in the novel. I have only seen this device used a couple of times, and I can only put a name to one of them now, Daphne du Maurier’s shy, self-effacing narrator in Rebecca. Surely the reason that Kitamura used this device is not the same. Of course, the novel is narrated in first person, and we don’t think of ourselves by our names. Still, no one calls her by her name, either. Perhaps Kitamura uses the device because in some ways the narrator seems to be functioning blindly and is at times an unreliable narrator because she is unaware of her own motivation. I wonder if anyone else has an insight into this.

Related Posts

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9 thoughts on “Review 1358: Literary Wives! A Separation

  1. The Paperback Princess June 3, 2019 / 2:13 pm

    I completely agree with what you are saying about her obeying rather than thinking. I think that’s what was part of what felt problematic for me. Even in the end, we still have no more idea about who the narrator is but we know all about Christoper and I didn’t feel like he was the point.

    • whatmeread June 3, 2019 / 2:21 pm

      I thought it was probably true to life, that people often do things without really thinking them through, even people who think they’re thinking them through. There’s some interesting neurological research about that.

  2. Ruthiella June 3, 2019 / 2:47 pm

    I really liked this book. I liked that the reader had to do a little extrapolating to figure out what the unnamed narrator is purposefully NOT telling the reader. I also enjoyed her observations/assumptions about the hotel staff. It was funny at times but also reminded me of some of my less finer moments,

  3. Naomi June 3, 2019 / 3:31 pm

    It wasn’t really until I wrote my post that I realized the plot wasn’t the point and that there wasn’t supposed to be answers to my questions, but I felt like the novel was set up to make you think something was coming when really it wasn’t. And then it felt like a let-down. I did think it was thoughtful, though, and I found it interesting that she found herself having to carry out a role that she thought she was done with.
    I wish I knew why Christopher wanted to keep it a secret. It feels mysterious, yet there are no answers.

    • whatmeread June 3, 2019 / 6:45 pm

      I wasn’t sure it was the novel. I thought it was the book blurb, which made it sound like a mystery. I believe Christopher wanted to keep it a secret because he believed that he could eventually win her back, or he had a fantasy about it or something. He did other things that suggested that besides wanting to keep the separation a secret.

      • Naomi June 4, 2019 / 11:34 am

        Oh, thank you. I guess I missed that, or don’t remember it. That makes sense!

  4. Simon T June 6, 2019 / 10:56 am

    Very interesting insight into that particular angle of the book – I love that idea for a club. More superficially, I love this cover!

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