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The Wife

The cover of the novel, "The Wife."
The Wife

All the books I read in 2019

10. The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

Did I finish it or abandon it? I FINISHED IT

Would I recommend it? NO

Sometimes, it’s useful to stick with a book you’re not enjoying in the hope of learning something from it. This was the case with The Wife.

A common piece of advice given to writers is to “write what you know,” I know I certainly am. All of our Tomorrows is mainly about doctors. Still, I find it odd to read a book in which a writer writes about a fictional writer. John Niven's Straight White Male was similar, but that book was better that this. When it comes down to it, I just don't think the process of writing is that interesting to read about in fiction - and I say that as a writer.

That aside, my issues with this book are threefold:

1. The structure.

I’ve described Fever, my favourite book of 2018, as a structural masterclass. The Wife is a structural shit show. Pretty much the whole book is flashback. The story starts with the married couple Joe and Joan on a flight from New York to Helsinki where Joe will receive a prestigious literary prize. Now, the problem I found with telling story in flashback is that by page 100, the couple have only got to their hotel lobby and I’m wondering “When is something actually going to happen?” This book has confirmed for me that I need to limit the flashbacks in my novel; they’re just not as engaging or interesting as the main text. From a structural perspective, I think this book would have worked much better as a split time narrative, like Andrea Levy’s Small Island.

2. The perspective.

The whole book is told from Joan’s point of view, but the story is completely about the husband Joe. We learn all about his childhood, his insecurities, his ambitions etc… and we learn hardly anything about Joan. This is a real shame, because she seems to be by far the more interesting character. Meg Wolitzer should have called this book “The Husband,” at least, that would have been more honest.

3. Things aren’t subtle.

Very early on, I guessed “big reveal” that the book spends 200 pages building towards. To be fair, the end is written well. I really enjoyed the last thirty pages or so, but they’re really not worth all the hours I spent getting there.

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