Marta and Hector have been married for a long time, but Marta cannot seem to remember how they first met. Their son has now left home and Marta is lost without him. She fills the void he has left by trying to delve back into her past. Small snippets of memories are beginning to come back to her, but she is not sure which memories are real and which her imagination.
In her dreams Marta is haunted by a young girl with flowing blonde hair calling out for help. She knows at a young age that Hector, many years her senior, helped her with her grief after the death of her parents in a car accident.
Marta has been on medication her entire adult life to help her with her erratic behaviour and to lessen the blow of her sad past. But the medication has suppressed her memory and now that her son has grown up and moved out, she is keen to remember.
Her memory startles her, even scares her. They make the life she has lived a lie. Could they be true or is it her mind playing tricks, no longer tamed by medication?
Chapman has set her haunting book in the mountainous regions of Scandinavia adding to the eerie theme. With dark cold drawn out days everything seems horribly bleak.
As Marta struggles with her memory, secretly defying to take her medication, the plot twists and weaves keeping the reader guessing.
The novel takes its name from the title of a book Marta was given as a wedding gift by Hector’s mother, How To Be A Good Wife. She informed Marta that it would teach her everything she needed to know. As Marta goes about her daily chores, mostly consumed with keeping Hector happy, she remembers anecdotes from this book that sparks her into wifely action. The book has guided her throughout her marriage with such gems as:
“Clear away any untidiness. Catering to his comfort will give you an immense sense of personal satisfaction.”
It is reminiscent of Home Economics for Women in the 1950s, a high school textbook for girls allegedly preparing them for married life. A text widely quoted and refuted by feminists.
Chapman uses this early on in her novel to show the strange relationship between Marta and Hector. Almost immediately the reader is aware of an odd imbalance in their relationship.
Chapman has written a perceptive debut. It is a thriller that easily compares to more experienced writers such as Gillian Flynn with her bestselling novel Gone Girl. Her writing is eerily evocative with a talent for setting a chilling scene. Chapman is an exciting new writer. Definitely one to watch.
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