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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 19 January 2013
I bought this book yesterday at work. Lately I haven't been in the habit of finishing books in one sitting, as I used to (probably because I feel guilty about neglecting my own novel), but How to be a Good Wife was impossible to put down. It tells the story of a woman we are introduced to as Marta, whose ordered and placid life begins to unravel when she stops taking the medication given to her by her husband. The reader soon realises that Marta's past may not be as innocuous as it seems. Neither is Hector, her rather sinister husband. I have to say I am deeply impressed at how skilfully the simple narrative handles the complex emotional consequences of post-traumatic shock.

A small cast of characters allows for some excellent characterisation, and the setting is perfect. The empty, echoing beauty of Scandinavia rather brilliantly complements the solitude in which Marta lives, teetering between past and present. Her painful, eerie journey towards a possible truth is quite chillingly evoked through sharp dialogue and stark imagery. Though a fairly short novel, it clings to you after the end; I kept wondering what effect the conclusion would have on the other characters, and couldn't help `writing' more of the story in my head. I don't mean of course that the story required further development. Its ending was such that you didn't want to pull away, to lay it down. You wanted to talk about it, reflect upon it - and that is the mark of a story well-told. That and its legacy - a distinct and unique haunting. Highly recommended.
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on 6 June 2016
I listened to this mostly as an audio book from Audible. For much of the book I felt impatient as there was not much happening, just enough to keep me listening/reading. Then about halfway through I found myself really involved in the story and Marta's life.

I kept hoping that the outcome would be as I wanted. I won't say what that was as I don't want to spoil it.

This is a very sad story and I found myself thinking about it long after I had finished the book.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Marta Bjornstad is wife to Hector and mother to Kyle - and this is very much how she defines herself. On her wedding day she was given a book by Hector's mother entitled `How to be a Good Wife' and ever since she has tried to live her life according to the dated and cringeworthy epithets it contains.

This is a book where nothing is quite what it seems and no-one is as innocent as they first appear - or are they? Marta is our narrator and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell how reliable her version of events is. She lives an isolated existence, virtually housebound ("Your husband belongs in the outside world. The house is your domain and your responsibility" states her `bible') apart from her 1 pm daily trip to the market, which she observes religiously. Her hazy childhood recollections and the medication that Hector insists she takes, hint at a troubled past.

The remote Scandinavian setting adds to the sense of isolation and paranoia which we experience along with Marta and the ethereal nature of the story is increased by Marta's visions of a young blonde girl in white pyjamas - who is she and how does she figure in Marta's past?

It's a short book (164 pages) which really packs a punch. The obvious comparisons have been made to `Before I Go To Sleep' by SJ Watson, but I preferred HTBAGW - I found it more believable somehow and hence more scary! A chilling and very clever debut novel.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Marta and Hector have been married for many years and have an adult son who lives in the city. Marta is the narrator and within the first few paragraphs the reader realises there is something very wrong in her life.

Hector seems to check up on her more than is normal and is constantly reminding her to take her pills. Marta sees things - but are they things going on in her head or are they hallucinations - or maybe Hector is trying to convince her that she is actually insane.

This is a disturbing book and what is real and what is a figment of Marta's potentially deranged mind is far from clear. Did I enjoy it? I'm really not sure whether I enjoyed it or not. I did find it very unsettling as the author succeeds in blurring the borders of reality and imagination and I found I couldn't trust what I was reading. I found myself constantly reminded of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's `The Yellow Wallpaper' which I have always thought a very frightening read.

Whether or not readers enjoy this book is going to be unpredictable. Some will love it, some will hate it but it would be a good book for book clubs to read and discuss as there will be plenty of different opinions about it.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 16 September 2014
“Make your home a place of peace and order.”

This book narrates the story of Marta as told by her. It starts off as she is a woman aged in her 40s, her only son grown up and now moved away. She misses him, and has a rather aloof relationship with her husband. At least, that’s how it seems. She seems in her narration at times to be rather dismissive of her husband Hector, and at other times to be unsure of how she came to be married to him; memories are deceptive, or perhaps she’s only now starting to question them. Is that because she’s no longer taking her medications? And what were the medications for? Slowly the reader starts to piece together things from what Marta says, or doesn’t say. Our own conclusions starting to be drawn, we read on to find out if we may be right, or if we have perhaps been misled; by our own emotions/thoughts, or by Marta’s uncertain narrative. Throughout, we read snippets from the book given to her by her mother-in-law on her wedding day, How To Be A Good Wife. Again, we are unsure; are Marta’s relationships the cause of her uncertainties, or are they a result of Marta’s nature?

One thing I found a little odd was why the book was set in what seemed to be a Scandinavian country. Given that the author appears to be English, and living in Australia, I thought there must be a reason for the book’s geographical setting, but there really didn’t seem to be. Perhaps just a whim of the author.

Overall, a pleasant read; very well written, and well paced; but I felt the plot was underdeveloped. There needed to be another edge to the story to make it memorable. As it was, it remains a well written, but forgettable modern nove
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on 21 May 2014
I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Marta, a housewife in her 40's lives with her older husband Hector. Her beloved son Kylan has moved away from home and she is having difficulty accepting the fact that it will be just her and Hector from now on. Marta and Hector's relationship had an unusual beginning, with Hector supposedly finding Marta on a doorstep having lost her memory, though the story they tell others is slightly different.

Marta is supposed to take medication, though never explained it appears that these are either anti depressants or anti psychotic drugs as the last time Marta stopped taking them she had 'episodes'. Unknown to Hector, Marta has again stopped taking the medication. Slowly she begins to see a girl and images, though she isn't sure if she's hallucinating or recovering long hidden memories. Whilst all this is going on Hector's own secret begins to emerge.

This is a gripping debut from Emma Chapman. I read How to be a Good Wife in one day. It is set in an unnamed town in an unnamed Scandinavian country, the hills and fjords surrounding Marta's village making it seem closed off and adding to the impending sense of claustrophobia the book imparts. Marta hasn't left the confines of the village for 25 years, under orders from Hector not to do so, for the good of her health. I felt the claustrophobia and mild panic build as the story unfolded, which made it all the more impacting for me.

The outcome of the story is deliberately ambiguous in that Emma Chapman has left it for the reader to decide what has really happened to Marta and Hector. This is a great story device as all the way through the reader is left to make their own decision as to what is being played out. Because of the nature of the story I cannot really say any more about what happens to Marta and Hector, as this would spoil it for the reader. Be prepared for a chilling, enthralling story that grabs you and won't let go until you come to your conclusion.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Set with stylish circularity between the cool dark depths of the ocean and a sylvan Scandinavian valley; strict boundaries rigidly contain the everyday life of Marta, a middle aged housewife who is sadly besieged by a seething, sullen sense of displacement. Even her name feels second hand.

Sinister Hector, Marta's uxorious, two decades older husband, hovers around her proffering `medication'. He is a horror, a man struggling with lies and disgrace, an apparent control freak.

Marta's disobedience begins with the odd stealthy cigarette, pills secreted away un-taken, lengthy spells of muddled remembering triggered by sights of a strange young girl appearing randomly at differing ages in various guises.

High school teacher Hector has a close friendship with the village Dr, who wolfishly leering over Marta, declares that she is just as he likes them. Could this be important? Who prescribes the endless drugs and why...

A manual for a happy marriage, `How to Be a Good Wife' is pressed upon Marta on her wedding day by Matilda her over bearing mother in law. Later this outdated book has it's own uses and message.

As the family unravels and the worm turns the back story takes over. Who are we to believe? A possible saviour, son Kylan, comes home with wife to be Katya and the over salted pot boils over.

There is an inevitable awkwardness in setting a novel entirely in the first person, especially when the narrator might be seen to be unreliable. Many of the people that she comes across believe this to be the case. However I fell for her completely and found her entirely sympathetic. I would love to meet Emma Chapman and talk to her about this, her first book. Its languid, paced unfurling touched my heart and pulled me down with her to the reality of what is `A Good Wife'.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
We all know, a new author comes along and the blurb for the book is usually out of this world - but in reality it virtually never turns out to be as good as the hype. This book perhaps doesn't live up to all the hype, but the author is definitely someone to watch, if this début is anything to go by. First novels can be a bit clumsy, but in this case my only complaint would be that it is a bit jarring in places.

Told by Marta, the main character, we are led on by someone who is to a degree one we soon find to be unreliable. With her suddenly realising that she smokes, that she forgets things, that she hallucinates, we also find she is on medication. Deeply unsettling this is a story that leads us around the houses; it has suspense and is deeply psychological, and is eerie and unsettling. As you read further you feel lost not knowing what will happen next, as the story goes back and forth in time. This would actually make a good film, especially with its small cast of characters, and the fact that you could set this in other locations. Also due to its form this would be an ideal read for book groups. Not the best book you will read in 2013 although this will be something that is haunting and unsettling and will make you think. If this is anything to go by then this author definitely has a great career ahead of her.
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on 27 February 2013
This is a much talked about debut novel that did not disappoint.
it starts slowly and it takes a while to realise what the story is about and where it is going. Then you find her voice and the narration takes on its own impetus and takes you into a wonderful book that is darker than most Scandinavian Noir I love to read. This novel is set in that region, in a undisclosed country that is cold, bleak and undefined as Marta's memory and grasp of reality.
I enjoyed the descriptions of the landscape and harsh climate; the use of language which is light and shade, similar to Marta's efforts to remember her past and the blanket snow that covers the ground as perhaps her medication dulls her mood and removes any stimulus to fight the life others define for her.
This is a novel that speaks about relationships and how we piece together our sense of self - a Mother, Daughter-in-Law a Good Wife.
It may strike you a female book; perhaps not appealing to a male readership, but that would be poor generalisation. The male characters are strong and identifiable with our own experiences and help the book work at the level of storytelling and reflecting on the themes of the novel. However, this is as much a crime thriller as any of the books in this genre I am drawn to usually. Perhaps if Marta had taken a different path the Police may have identified the crime for what is was but in her choices and the restrictions others place on her, Marta can be seen as a selfless woman who is beyond a good wife and loving Mum. Perhaps that is what marriage is for some and what love in a giving relations produces; strange we can see that in the pages of this wonderful book, where love is abused, misdirected and still triumpths in the end.
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on 13 January 2013
I received my copy from Pan Macmillan through Nudge

Marta and Hector have been married for years. For so long, in fact, that Marta doesn't seem to have any memories of her life before her wedding. For over twenty years Marta's main focus in life has been her husband, her son and the house they live in. And for all those years she has tried to live her life according to a book her mother in law gave her when she married Hector; a book titled "How to be a Good Wife".

"Remember, always be bright and cheerful; a breath of fresh air."

But ever since their son, Kylan, moved away to the city Marta has been feeling restless. Hector thinks she just needs to get used to the empty nest, continue to take her medication and keep herself busy, but Marta isn't so sure. She stopped taking her medication shortly after her son left just to find out what her life would be like without it and she is starting to notice the effects. Recently she's been having visions of a young blond girl in pyjamas. Sometimes the girl looks well and happy and at other times the girl looks dirty and underfed. The girl is vaguely familiar but Marta can't place her in any context. It is only when Hector returns home from work early one day and reveals a secret that events start to escalate. Suddenly Marta finds herself questioning if anything in her life is what it appears to be. Are the things she has believed to be true for a long time really what they seem or is there a whole other story waiting for her to be discovered? Are her visions the result of her coming of her medication or are they something more?

This is a multi-layered and rather chilling story. What at first appears to be the story of a woman unable to deal with her life now that the centre of it, her son, has left soon turns into a creepy thriller with one central mystery; is Marta creating her own problems or is she uncovering a past crime of horrifying proportions?

I went through a wide variety of emotions while reading this book. Initially I found myself wanting to shout at Marta, tell her to take those tablets, force her to stop putting herself in dangers' way. I could understand why she didn't want to take them, why she wanted to feel again but at the same time I felt she was causing unnecessary pain for both her and her, apparently, caring husband. It wasn't long though until I was hoping that she would manage to stay off her tablets so that she could find out what her visions were trying to tell her.

This is a very tightly plotted novel written in a rather sober way. There are no wasted words in this book. People, places and emotions are all described in the barest of terms yet jump of the page and grab the reader by the throat. Or maybe they are so vivid exactly because they are not described in flowery terms. An aura of menace seems to underlie every single sentence in this book and not just because of Marta's visions and forgotten past. The whole idea of the "good wife", the way she is expected to be and act like one by the people around her and the referenced quotes from the book by that title give this story an extra layer of horror.

This book doesn't provide the reader with clear cut answers. By the time you finish the book the story has well and truly ended. The interpretation of what exactly has gone on before is very much up to the individual reader though. And for me that means that this is a story that will keep me thinking for quite some time to come.

This is a fascinating and chilling story about who we are if we live our life according to rules set by others and we can't remember our earliest past.
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