I received my copy from Pan Macmillan through Nudge.
Marta and Hector have been married for years. For so long, in fact, that Marta doesn’t seem to have any memories of her life before her wedding. For over twenty years Marta’s main focus in life has been her husband, her son and the house they live in. And for all those years she has tried to live her life according to a book her mother in law gave her when she married Hector; a book titled “How to be a Good Wife”.
“Remember, always be bright and cheerful; a breath of fresh air.”
But ever since their son, Kylan, moved away to the city Marta has been feeling restless. Hector thinks she just needs to get used to the empty nest, continue to take her medication and keep herself busy, but Marta isn’t so sure. She stopped taking her medication shortly after her son left just to find out what her life would be like without it and she is starting to notice the effects. Recently she’s been having visions of a young blond girl in pyjamas. Sometimes the girl looks well and happy and at other times the girl looks dirty and underfed. The girl is vaguely familiar but Marta can’t place her in any context. It is only when Hector returns home from work early one day and reveals a secret that events start to escalate. Suddenly Marta finds herself questioning if anything in her life is what it appears to be. Are the things she has believed to be true for a long time really what they seem or is there a whole other story waiting for her to be discovered? Are her visions the result of her coming of her medication or are they something more?
This is a multi-layered and rather chilling story. What at first appears to be the story of a woman unable to deal with her life now that the centre of it, her son, has left soon turns into a creepy thriller with one central mystery; is Marta creating her own problems or is she uncovering a past crime of horrifying proportions?
I went through a wide variety of emotions while reading this book. Initially I found myself wanting to shout at Marta, tell her to take those tablets, force her to stop putting herself in dangers’ way. I could understand why she didn’t want to take them, why she wanted to feel again but at the same time I felt she was causing unnecessary pain for both her and her, apparently, caring husband. It wasn’t long though until I was hoping that she would manage to stay off her tablets so that she could find out what her visions were trying to tell her.
This is a very tightly plotted novel written in a rather sober way. There are no wasted words in this book. People, places and emotions are all described in the barest of terms yet jump of the page and grab the reader by the throat. Or maybe they are so vivid exactly because they are not described in flowery terms. An aura of menace seems to underlie every single sentence in this book and not just because of Marta’s visions and forgotten past. The whole idea of the “good wife”, the way she is expected to be and act like one by the people around her and the referenced quotes from the book by that title give this story an extra layer of horror.
This book doesn’t provide the reader with clear cut answers. By the time you finish the book the story has well and truly ended. The interpretation of what exactly has gone on before is very much up to the individual reader though. And for me that means that this is a story that will keep me thinking for quite some time to come.
This is a fascinating and chilling story about who we are if we live our life according to rules set by others and we can’t remember our earliest past.