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His Perfect Wife: This is no ordinary psychological thriller Paperback – 21 Mar 2019
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So refreshing. A thriller, a page-turner, thoughtful and thought-provoking (Sabine Durrant, bestselling author of Lie With Me)
Sterling work . . . an astutely written, complex debut . . . even seasoned genre aficionados will be surprised . . . an assured outing (Guardian)
Cunning . . . will have your brain working in overdrive as you try to second guess Natasha Bell's ingenious plot and as you reflect on her thought-provoking observations on art, love and family life (S Magazine, Sunday Express)
2018's most gripping psychological thriller (Stylist)
Gripping, intriguing and incredibly satisfying, this book confounds your expectations and keeps you guessing to the end (WI Life)
An intelligent, taut thriller which was beautifully written and compelling. I loved how the author played with the whole theme of life imitating art. Full of twists and turns I couldn't put it down. I thought the ending was perfect! (Claire Douglas, Sunday Times bestselling author of Last Seen Alive)
I adored Exhibit Alexandra. I thought it was a smart, original page turner which really brought something different to the thriller genre. It kept me up half the night! (Gillian McAllister, Sunday Times bestselling author of Everything But The Truth)
Beautifully insidious, a novel that outwits expectation at every turn (Francis Spufford, Costa Prize winning author of Golden Hill)
A smart, confident thriller, Exhibit Alexandra asks searching questions about motherhood and identity, and keeps you guessing to the very last page. Natasha Bell writes thought-provokingly about home, love, belonging - and what else a woman might want from life (Beth Underdown, author of The Witchfinder’s Sister)
This smart, mirror maze of a thriller bristles with sharp edges, twisting familiar Gone Girl themes into Bell's own intense creation (Kirkus)
About the Author
Natasha Bell grew up in Somerset and studied English Literature and Theatre at the University of York and Mount Holyoke College, before moving to Chicago to take an MA in the Humanities. Over-educated and entirely unemployable, she spent her twenties in York writing TV listings and working as a barista and a projectionist. She recently completed an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths and now writes full-time from her home in south-east London.
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When Dr Marc Southwood returns home from his job as a lecturer in the English department at the University of York he assumes there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for his wife of thirteen years delayed return home. Married with two daughters under the age of eleven, thirty-seven-year-old Alex works as a part-time lecturer of art history and juggles her responsibilities with a career and the PhD she is a working towards. In a novel written entirely from the perspective of the missing Alex she makes clear that much of what she envisages might never have happened and remains unknown with certain details the result of her own imaginings. However there are two sides to this story and in a direct contrast to her envisaging Marc’s world shattering and his utter devastation at losing the love of his life, a second strand of the narrative detailing her own preoccupations, dreams and sacrifices begins to paint a very different picture of Alex and her settled life in York. When just days after her disappearance a sizeable quantity of blood and her discarded bag are found by the local river the expected discovery of her dead body does not follow but the realistic conclusion of the Southwood’s friends, colleagues and wider family is that there can be little chance that Alex is still alive.
As the weeks and months pass without the police making any significant inroads into the search for answers or to confirm Alex’s fate the narrative voice of Alex imagines Marc’s turmoil, her daughters sense of loss and family life suspended. Alongside this is Alex’s own take on her meeting with Marc and relationship from the abandonment of her place at a prestigious graduate school for art in New York to family life and motherhood. In a picture which builds slowly and takes a more unsettling turn in the second half the early mix of couples dinner parties and the joys of family life are also set alongside a one-sided correspondence from her fellow student contemporary in New York, Amelia Heldt, now a renowned and reclusive figure in the world of feminism and postmodern art. The contents of Amelia’s eye-rollingly self-important drivel proves infuriating and gets in the way of the characterisation of Marc whose grief is evident and daughters whose mix of confusion and anger is well conveyed and the picture of Alex as a woman who has spent over a decade as a wife and mother is difficult to equate with what emerges and it is this divergence which concerned me. With Marc remaining loyal and praying for Alex’s return even as staggering revelations and lies start to emerge when he finally comes to read Amelia’s letters and questions whether he knew his wife at all, yet his concern for her never diminishes. With the second half hammering home its message I spotted its direction but was blindsided by the startling denouement.
The premise rather oversells the tension surrounding Alexandra’s confinement and whilst she is seemingly held in a room devoid of stimulus and waiting for an unidentified captor to visit, bring her food and provoke thoughts of the life she has left behind, it is in actual fact a far more mundane captivity, less occupied by her despair for her family and heavy on ego. The reader is told nothing of her whereabouts, daily routine or presented with a motive for why she has been taken. Only much further into the novel does it become appreciable just how inaccurate a depiction of her situation this is and Natasha Bell does not play fair with her readers.
Think Gone Girl with an element on postmodern art and a detour into the compromise entailed by motherhood and its importance to a woman’s identity. The opening shows real promise and is both well-written and refreshing different. However well before the halfway mark it runs out of steam, becoming repetitive, tediously self-involved and so pretentious it alienates a mainstream audience. I doubt my scorn for modern art or the artists who justify their exploits in the name of creative genius can have helped my enjoyment of this novel and it is that, as opposed to the more understandable trade-off of marriage and motherhood that dominates the narrative. However with a title that gives much away from outset and readily conjures up images of installation art, the rushed denouement offers no examination of the repercussions of such behaviour or an individual’s social responsibility and this frustrates. Hits and miss execution of a stellar premise that required more of Alex’s actual emotion as opposed to theory to keep me invested. As it stands there is a whole raft of stultifying claptrap seeking to justify Alex’s actions which failed to arouse my empathy. Different, yes, but a mixed reading experience for me and in all honesty pretty unsatisfying.
Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel)
I definite five stars from me. Original. Page-turning, thought-provoking, and totally believable. I loved every page.
happen, thankfully it was the end. Lots of words not alot to say.