The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

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The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Kerry King
Reviewed by Kerry King
Summary: Joe and Joan Castleman are on their way to Helsinki. Joe, as ever, is thinking how he will finally be recognised as one of the 20th Century's finest authors and can only concentrate on the prestigious literary prize he is about to receive. Joan, on the other hand, is plotting how best she can extricate herself from her subjugating, stifling marriage to Joe and leave him. A very clever, and bitingly funny study of the marriage partnership, that will challenge you with questions about the power relationship we all know to exist between women and their husbands.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 328 Date: August 2004
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099478195

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The fact that Joan Castleman is the wife of one of the 20th Century's most lauded and acclaimed authors has not escaped her notice and certainly there are people a-plenty to remind her how amazing her entire existence must surely be. The role of the supportive significant other is a part that Joan has played for almost her entire life, watching her husband Joe's steady rise to the top of his professional tree, whilst suppressing her own career aspirations and talents to be the silent stanchion of her marriage, in every conceivable way.

For although Joe believes he is the soul of discretion, his frequent adulterous misdemeanours do not go undetected and as such are hurtful, particularly as he often revisits his digressions within the pages of his novels. Still, Joan's consolation lies within the lives of her beloved children, the belief she resolutely has in herself and the fact that Joe never seems to take anything away from these extra-marital excursions other than the sheer gratification at being in the arms of someone who can give Joe the one thing Joan cannot: the reverent adulation of a devoted fan.

For the most part, Joan long ago realised that Joe's lack of fidelity does not bother her in the way that it probably should, since the majority of Joe's adultery is with the aspirant writers who regularly cross his path. As a once very promising literature student, Joan struggles to comprehend Joe's fascination with such cursory flings; these women, with their rudimentary grasp of what it takes to write a novel, who would give a limb to possess a fraction of Joe's writing gift, are a mystery to her. And yet still her heart aches, though perhaps not simply for her husband and his wandering eye.

Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant, warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else… Listen, we say. Everything will be okay. And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is.

Though the passage of the tale, at first glance, would seem obvious, The Wife and her story are not as they appear. You may form many opinions of Joan as the story progresses, but I can assure you that none of them will be entirely true or correct. Wolitzer's gift in her writing and in the writing of this novel in particular, is to cast so subtle a spell over the reader that he or she does not realise the extent of their enchantment. As such, you may find that you and she become one within the story and the critical unfurling in the final phase will seize your interest like an Andy Murray Wimbledon Final.

If The Wife sounds like your kind of thing, you must read The Ten Year Nap. Maybe The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan will tempt you, as it delves beautifully in and out of the subjects of marriage, infidelity, families and the ties that bind us. Lastly and possibly somewhat oddly - and you may wonder why, as it could not be the book as a whole but some of the stories within certainly resonate - you should also take a look at Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan, particularly Coffee.

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Buy The Wife by Meg Wolitzer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Wife by Meg Wolitzer at


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