Book Reviews / Books

Review: How to be a Good Wife – Emma Chapman

03.25.13


How to be a Good Wife

Recently on Twitter, there has been much talk of How to be a Good Wife, the debut novel of author Emma Chapman. Given that most people I follow are in the book industry, whether writers, publicists or fellow book-lovers, Twitter has quickly become something of a book hub, where I learn about the latest releases that everyone’s talking about. Last week it was the aforementioned debut and so, when heading to deepest, darkest Sussex after a particularly hectic week at work, I decided to move on from the novel I had been struggling with for over a week, in favour of what I hoped would be a more gripping read.

From the off-set, How to be a Good Wife was something of an uncomfortable read; made all the more so given the recent bleak weather that has descended across England. The solitude of Sussex after the bright lights of London, coupled with a loud blustery storm certainly made it atmospheric.

Telling the story of Marta, wife to Hector and mother to Kylan, How to be a Good Wife explores themes of memories, secrets and betrayals against the backdrop of silent Scandinavia. Marta has stopped taking her prescribed medication, against the wishes of both her son and her husband, and the reader witnesses what at first appears to be the onset of a mental breakdown.

But as Marta’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic, shards of forgotten memories begin slotting together, resulting in a climatic twist to Chapman’s debut. Both menacing and sinister, How to be a Good Wife is an unsettling read to be devoured in one sitting.

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Book Reviews / Books

Review: The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

03.13.13

The Rosie Project

Of late, I’ve somewhat struggled with my reading endeavours. I’ve started – and stopped – a number of books in the past couple of weeks that haven’t quite grabbed me. Often it can turn reading, one of my favourite things to do, into something of a chore. As it was, over the weekend I was half way through a novel that I’ve been reading on and off for a fortnight or so, when I decided to move on to a different book, namely The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

Telling the story of socially awkward genetics professor Don Tillman who suffers from undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, The Rosie Project is a unique and beautifully written book that I read in one sitting. A humourous, touching tale, The Rosie Project follows Tillman as he creates a thorough questionnaire that he hopes will assist in his quest for a wife. And having devised the sixteen page questionnaire, Rosie appears on the scene; a woman who certainly fits none of the selection criteria – an outspoken barmaid she smokes, drinks and swears causing Don to write her off immediately. However, when Don agrees to help her find her biological father, casting Don’s quest for a wife to the back of his mind, an unlikely friendship between the two characters blossoms.

Comparisons have been drawn with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time; due in no small part to the prominence of social awkwardness and Asperger’s Syndrome throughout the book. Tillman is both an engaging and affable narrator whose idiosyncracies give the tale a tone of poignancy and charm.

Both comic and clever, humorous and heartwarming, it’s easy to see why The Rosie Project is set to become this year’s publishing phenomenon.

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Book Reviews / Books

Review: The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

03.01.13

The Woman in Black

Quite often, film adaptations of novels become more famous than the books on which they’re based – The Beach, It’s a Wonderful Life and Slumdog Millionaire to name but a few. Perhaps less common, however, is for the stage version of a film to become quite so ingrained in mainstream culture – a feat that Susan Hill has certainly accomplished with The Woman in Black.

Many of my friends have recommended that I watch it on-stage, and I deliberated over this for a while before deciding to read the book first. I was aware of its spooky nature; indeed it is often referred to as one of the scariest ghost stories ever written.

Published three decades ago in 1983, the story is written in the style of a traditional gothic novel and centres around solicitor Arthur Kipps who is summoned to a small market town following the death of Alice Drablow, an elderly widow who lived alone in the desolate and secluded Eel Marsh House.

As soon as Arthur arrives in Critthin Gifford, he hears of rumours surrounding Eel Marsh House and it quickly becomes apparent that wrapping up the estate of Alice Drablow will not be a straightforward assignment.

As with many gothic novels, the house is as much of a character as the protagonist himself, and Eel Marsh House is no exception. Located away from the town and surrounded by mist, a chair rocks in an empty room and strange noises wake Arthur in the night. And as the young solicitor digs deeper into the mystery of the woman in black the suspense builds to a frightening level.

Like the very best ghost stories, this one is both simple and chilling as it depicts one man’s encounter with things that cannot be rationally explained — or dismissed. The Woman in Black’s climatic end is a powerful and tragic end to a book that certainly deserves its accolade of a modern classic.

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Book Reviews / Books

Review: Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

02.20.13
Life After Life
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Years ago, when I was backpacking across India on my gap year, a girl I met called Hannah told me that Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson was her favourite book. I added it to my To Be Read list and bought a copy on my return to England. That was eight years ago, and I still have an unread copy of the book on my mantelpiece in London.

I have heard about Kate Atkinson numerous times since I was first recommended Behind the Scenes at the Museum, but it was only when I recently saw a tweet from Jamie Byng, founder of World Book Night, singing the praises of Atkinson’s latest novel Life After Life, that I decided it was time I read one of her books.

Ironically, Life After Life begins on my birthday – 11th February, albeit some years before I was born. The year is 1910, the night is snowy, and into the world comes Ursula Todd, born to a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. Yet on that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born and lives to tell the tale.

In this unique and captivating tale, Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she embarks upon a number of different lives, each of which are effected by the twists and turns of destiny. Showing how one small decision can wildly affect one’s future, Life After Life sees Ursula encounter heartbreak, death, passion and loss as the hand of fate deals her card.

With characters as profound and well crafted as those found in classics and an engaging plot, Life After Life is both a poignant and inventive tale. The perfect first foray into the work of Atkinson, it certainly won’t be my last.

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