Title: Die Ehefrau
Original title: The Wife: A Novel
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Published: September 2016, Germany | March 2003, USA
Format: Audio Book
Narrator: Gabriele Blum
S has read it before me and highly recommended it.
“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.”
The wife’s name is Joan Castleman. For more than 40 years she’s been married to Joseph Castleman. Joe is a highly successful and popular author of novels. He’s one of the really big ones, has won prizes left and right, and now he is, along with Joan, on his way to Helsinki/Finland because he’s awarded the (fictitious) prestigious Helsinki Literature Prize (an equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Literature).
The story begins with Joan reflecting about her life and marriage and telling us, the readers, that she has made the decision to leave her husband right after the ceremony took place. She’s talking about her life in flashbacks: How she and Joe met (she was his student in a writing class, he was her professor) and how she became his wife, pushing back her own writing talent and ambitions, to fully support her soon-to-be-famous husband, how they have raised children (one of them quite troubled). We learn about what a stupid asshole the husband is and we sometimes keep wondering why she stayed with him for so long.
This story is not only about a crumbling marriage but also about what it was like for women in the 50s and 60s. It wasn’t as easy as it is today to have a successful independent career. There weren’t as many opportunities for women back then as they are today. The roles of husbands and wives in a marriage were different from today. While she stepped back and forced her own ambitions down to support her husband’s career, she lived a good life at least in a materialistic way. But not necessarily always a happy one.
Some people that have reviewed this book thought that Joan was stupid to have lived this life the way she did, others thought she was a cold bitch. I disagree with both. Yes, she maybe wasn’t the perfect mother. Yes, she may have been also selfish. While she freely agreed to not follow her own dream of becoming a writer, and by supporting her husband, she thought she could still achive the life she wanted. I could understand some of her decisions. Which doesn’t mean I would have acted the same way or that I agree with everything she did. But I also don’t think she had acted the same way if she had lived in these days and times.
I reckon that the big twist towards the end was meant to be a total surprise, yet to me it wasn’t. I saw it coming from not 1 but 10 miles away. As it seems, I’m not the only one. And the actual ending… hmm…. seemed a bit of an easy way out. It didn’t hurt though. I loved that book. It’s a brilliant piece of stripped down, straightforward writing! While here and there I could have lived without some of the details that maybe weren’t important for the story, overall I couldn’t put it down hit the stop button. The German narrator was brilliant! Her voice, her way of speaking… she found the EXACT voice and tone for Joan and her story.
This is another example of how I think an audio book can even intensify a reading experience: If the narrator does such a perfect job. In this case, she made Joan even more “real” to me. I had a clear picture of her in my mind. That voice and her way of speaking was exactly how I would have thought Joan would sound. She wasn’t just a narrator to me, she was Joan!
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.