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The Wife by Meg Wolitzer Book Review

03.21.23
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

Prior to The Wife by Meg Wolitzer, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a movie adaptation before reading the book on which it’s based. Thankfully my recollection of watching the film was somewhat vague. I know I watched it on a flight; presumably somewhere in the airspace between Australia and the UK, and – while I remember adoring Glenn Close’s lead performance – the precise details had long since left my memory.

I’m not sure I even knew the film was based on a book at the time of watching it – but when I saw the book in my beloved Gertrude & Alice, I immediately bought it, and of the twenty-one books I’ve read this year, it was one of the best by far.

The Wife Book Review

A slip of a book that’s rich with powerful prose and strong characters, I loved The Wife from the very beginning. A tale about marriage, sacrifice, and deception, it follows the story of Joan, who is flying to Finland with her husband, Joe Castleman, where he’s to be awarded a prestigious prize for his decades-long writing career. Split between two time-frames – then and now – Joan looks back on the infancy of their relationship and offers readers a guarded glimmer of the bitterness Joan holds towards her husband.

Unlike any other book I’ve read before – and certainly very different to both The Female Persuasion and The Interesting’s, also by Meg Wolitzer – both of which I enjoyed, but not on the same level as The Wife, this book offers a brilliant depiction of the bind women have been in for most of history.

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The Wife, while ultimately about the Castleman’s crumbing marriage, is also about the role of a wife in a relationship, about equality, about identity, about choices made, about regret, and, perhaps most importantly, about resentment. A thought-provoking book about what it is to be a wife, and what it is to take back the power you relinquished when you didn’t know any better, there was nothing I didn’t love about this book.

An accomplished, polished, elegant, and stylish read, simmering with disquiet and regret, and with a brilliant twist at the end, for me, it’s Wolitzer’s best book by a country mile, and one that absolutely everyone should read.

Summary of The Wife

“The moment I decided to leave him, the moment I thought, enough, we were thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean, hurtling forward but giving the illusion of stillness and tranquility. Just like our marriage.” So opens Meg Wolitzer’s compelling and provocative novel The Wife, as Joan Castleman sits beside her husband on their flight to Helsinki. Joan’s husband, Joseph Castleman, is “one of those men who own the world…who has no idea how to take care of himself or anyone else, and who derives much of his style from the Dylan Thomas Handbook of Personal Hygiene and Etiquette.” He is also one of America’s preeminent novelists, about to receive a prestigious international award to honor his accomplishments, and Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, has finally decided to stop.

From this gripping opening, Wolitzer flashes back fifty years to 1950s Smith College and Greenwich Village — the beginning of the Castleman relationship — and follows the course of the famous marriage that has brought them to this breaking point, culminating in a shocking ending that outs a carefully kept secret.

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Wolitzer’s most important and ambitious book to date, The Wife is a wise, sharp-eyed, compulsively readable story about a woman forced to confront the sacrifices she’s made in order to achieve the life she thought she wanted. But it’s also an unusually candid look at the choices all men and women make for themselves, in marriage, work, and life. With her skillful storytelling and pitch-perfect observations, Wolitzer invites intriguing questions about the nature of partnership and the precarious position of an ambitious woman in a man’s world.

Further reading

The Wife was recently included in W Magazine’s round up of 12 Books to Read This Women’s History Month; the other 11 books are well worth adding to your TBR pile.

Meg Wolitzer Author Bio

Meg Wolitzer is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Interestings, The Uncoupling, The Ten-Year Nap, The Position, The Wife, and Sleepwalking. She is also the author of the young adult novel Belzhar. Wolitzer lives in New York City.

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