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How To Be a Good Wife    by Emma Chapman order for
How To Be a Good Wife
by Emma Chapman
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2014 (2013)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Marta Bjornstad has been married to Hector for over twenty years. When their only child, a son named Kylan, moves out of their home, she has more of an empty nest reaction than is considered normal. Hector makes sure that she is still taking her calming medication by watching her take it three times a day, not realizing that she has started to spit it out after he's out of the room. Hector has some secrets of his own that gradually become clear to Marta as the effects of the constant drugging begin to wear off. Unfortunately, Marta starts to have visions that are so real to her she believes they are actually happening.

Hector took her to a psychiatrist friend early in their relationship, so she's been taking the little pink pills for her entire married life, and for some strange reason Marta can't remember how she met Hector. She also doesn't believe that she was actually trying to kill herself the time they were on holiday and she went for a swim in the middle of the night. There are aspects of their marriage that lead the reader to believe there is either something wrong with Marta or her marriage. She is not allowed to go beyond the village limits and never goes into the city, although her husband has explained to her son, who now lives in the city, and everyone else that this is because she doesn't like it. She seems to be unusually dependent on Hector and has a love-hate relationship with his mother.

When Marta and Hector married, his mother gave her a book called How to be a Good Wife. Marta has studied this book and learned many lessons about how to make her husband happy and keep a clean house. Hector's mother also taught her to cook and has been vigilant in correcting her behavior. She even criticizes the way Marta arranges her kitchen cabinets, and the house is never clean enough to satisfy her during her visits, even though Marta seems to spend a large amount of her day cleaning.

The story unfolds with Marta's reality swinging between the present and visions of a blond girl that come to her more and more forcefully as time passes after she stops taking the pills. When Kylan comes to visit and introduce her to his fiancée, Marta breaks down after realizing that she will be stuck in her present life now that he is gone and never coming back. We wonder whether Hector is right and she is really mentally ill.

There is such a depressing quality to this story with none of the characters coming across as pleasant or likeable. For much of the book Marta seems truly out of touch with reality, and since she is the only narrator, we don't really know whether what she tells us about the other characters is accurate or not. I was hoping for a resolution of the mysteries presented in this book, but did not find any. There is an explanation by the author of what she intended to show by writing the book, but that should have been clear in the story itself, and for me, anyway, it was not.

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