'Needs more salt,' she says. Then she turns around, picks up her gin and tonic from the sideboard, and leaves the room.
When she is gone, I lift the lid of the pan. Picking up the large salt container, I hold it over the stew, watching the smooth white trail disappear. I pour until the container is empty.
Marta Bjornstad decides to stop taking her meds. When her husband asks her repeatedly if she took her meds, she lies and says yes. When he pops a pill into her mouth, prompts her to swallow and then open her mouth, she pretends to swallow the pill, hides it in a corner of her mouth and opens her supposedly empty mouth. She doesn't know why she's doing this. But she's tired of eating the pills. Sadly for her, stopping the pills begins to have an adverse effect on her - she starts getting visions of a girl she doesn't recognize. Initially, she panics, but soon she starts looking forward to the visions. She feels that the girl is trying to tell her something. She doesn't tell her husband though. When her son and his fiancee come to visit, she feels entirely beside herself. She is rude to her son's fiancee, and behaves weirdly. Soon things begin to get stranger - she sees things that she feels she knows but can't quite place properly. Suddenly, she feels that she cannot trust anyone - not even her husband.
If you read the blurb of How to be a Good Wife, you will see two familiar titles scream at you - Before I go to Sleep and Room - both books I barely enjoyed. I thought Room was well-written but filled with very implausible situations. Before I go to Sleep was just melodramatic and silly to me. So, why then did I chose to read How to be a Good Wife? I don't know.
This book is very well-written. Emma Chapman is definitely a promising author and I would be interested in seeing more of her works. There is a very cold quality to the prose. This is a wintry book - you can feel the lack of emotion and feeling flying out of the pages. The dialogue is detached. Marta's visions feel very real, very around the reader and it is not hard to see what she sees or think like her. Contrast that with the last few pages of the book, when a lot of positive feelings explode out. Suddenly there is some color, happiness and promise ahead.
Marta also turns out to be a very unreliable narrator. At one point, she dumps a whole container of salt into a stew and waits to hear what her guests think of her dish. They all loved her food though, and complimented her, but she thinks they are lying to please her. At every point, you never know who to trust - even at the end, you can see how cleverly the tables are positioned. From Marta's perspective, she is saying the truth, but as an outsider, it isn't hard to see a woman weaving mad fantastic tales.
The plot of How to be a Good Wife is very similar to Before I go to Sleep and Room. Unfortunately, this book suffers from the same flaws that beset those books as well. The author focuses more on trying to set the facts out than on making them feel real. Marta's actions seem more dictated on revealing the truth of what happened than on solving some more mysterious questions, such as what happened to her parents. I felt frustrated that she fell for the traps that conveniently marked her an insane woman. Rather than letting the story play for itself, I felt that the author was directing the story towards a certain planned ending, even if the means to the end didn't quite seem sensible. Also, by comparing this book to the other two books, the "blurb-writers" ruined this book by exposing the main spoiler.
At the end of it, I liked the atmosphere of the book, the writing and the ending. I didn't enjoy the plot (there are too many books out there running along the same lines, not to mention, real-life stories as well) or the progression from the beginning to the end. I think, personally, I am done with abduction stories. The real-life stories are harrowing enough and it's even more disappointing when none of the books seem to get it "right".
I received this book for free for review from the publisher.