'the wife's tale' is something that appealed to me on my last library trip. The picture on the front shows a happy looking woman looking into the sunshine, and there was a sticker on the book saying it was by the author of 'the girls'. While I have not read 'the girls' I do own a copy of it from book swapping, but have just never got round to reading it. I know that it is a popular book though, as it was a Richard and Judy book club read a few years back and I am not sure why I have not made the effort yet to read it apart from forgetting about it.
'the wife's tale' does not start off as the cheery read that it looks on the cover. We are introduced straight away to the main character, Mrs Mary Gooch. A wife of almost 25 years, who is on the eve of this important anniversary waiting for her husband Jimmy, who she often refers to as Gooch. He is working late, but he will be coming home soon she hopes.
It starts off a quite depressing tale. Mary is not a happy woman. She has let herself go badly over the years, and the first 60 plus pages is devoted to her telling a story of how she and Gooch met and married because she was pregnant, only for her to lose this and any subsequent babies. Her loss manifests in obsessive secret eating to feed the 'obeast' while Gooch is not about, and her body is suffering from the 302 pounds of weight she is walking around carrying.
As the reader you wait with her in the night during a storm, and you are aware of all her fears, all her foibles, and you start to feel a bit sorry for this woman who has so little in her life apart from her husband who is not coming home like he said. You can't help but feel incredibly sorry for this woman who is seemingly so incapable of doing anything and who has nothing else in her life apart from eating and her husband. At the same time, the way Gooch has been described, it is hard to see him as a villain because he has been trying to help Mary for the whole of their marriage and has simply come to the end of his limit.
When morning breaks it is clear that Gooch is not coming back and Mary must do something about it but I definitely got the feeling that she wasn't able to do anything to help herself. However, she realises that she can't just sit and wait, and we see a slow and gradual transformation in this women. She decides to follow any leads that she has to her husbands whereabouts. This takes her out of her small town in Canada for the first time, and even on an aeroplane to the States where she goes to wait for him with her Mother in law. Here the book became more interesting for me as life is not plain sailing for this woman who is used to being quite invisible. How she deals with the events that happen and begins to make a new life for herself in this new town is like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, and it it a beautiful transformation as she becomes Mary Gooch for what feels like the first time ever in her life.
I felt this book was quite slow to start for me. The first part featuring Mary at home waiting for Gooch was pretty much a monologue and though it was interesting, it was quite claustrophobic and left me not even knowing that this novel was set in Canada until she started to get up and move. I don't know if this was a deliberate writing technique from the author to get you to see how insular this character has been for her whole life.
I also felt that I was a bit frustrated sometimes by how slow the plot moved, but then again a grieving woman of 300 Ibs would move pretty slowly and be slow to mentally make a plan.
The plot is mostly focussed around Mary and her feelings and journey, so if you do not warm to Mary's character, then this would be a hard book to follow I think, though for me I felt a certain resonance with her. I was keen to see what would happen to her and if she could track down Gooch and solve all that was wrong or missing in her life. I was certainly delighted to see that she could make a new life for herself while she was searching without even really thinking about it. Though she believes food and Gooch are her Universe, it was good to see her gain new perspective.
From the start of the book, I was engaged by the writer's style. It is very descriptive and beautiful in its own right, so to me what could have been quite boring became a thing of interest, though again, others may be put off by the length of the descriptions. I felt like Mary was a lot deeper as a character than the way she had been acting at the start of the novel and just not giving herself a proper chance in life.
The only thing I can really criticise after reading this novel is that I felt that there was a lot of loose ends not really tied up for me at the end, and I felt like it could have gone a bit further to tie it up and resolve some of the open endedness for me. There is no sense of what Mary would do next, and I wasn't keen on this as I wasn't sure if her journey had ended or if she was still on it, and there was more to come. It was unsatisfactory to my senses to exit the story at that point.
My overall impression is that this book is well written, but I don't think everyone would enjoy it thanks to the slower pace and flowery writing. This is what I liked about it though. It's also strange having Mary as such a well developed character and not get the same sense of understanding about the other characters around her. Even Gooch is a bit flat compared to Mary's self absorption.
I'm glad that I did read it as it was thought provoking and written fantastically, and I think 'the girls' needs to be moved further up my to do list so that I can see if that one is written as well.
Mary Gooch has always struggled with what she calls the obeast, a monster who lives inside her and makes her eat. Whenever she is bored or sad or lonely the obeast rears its ugly head and she heads to the fridge to feed the monster within. The obeast is only quietened when Mary stuffs chocolates, ice cream or cookies into her mouth but this leaves her with feelings of guilt and emptiness and she has eaten her way to possessing a 300lb body which she struggles to drag around with her.
Mary's worst fear is that her handsome ex high school football player husband will leave her for a younger and slimmer woman. They met in high school and have settled into a comfortable rut, both working the same menial jobs for years and socialising with the same people they have known since school. Mary and Jimmy are coming up to their silver wedding anniversary, a day they plan to celebrate with a meal out with friends but this milestone proves to be a turning point in Mary's life as Gooch ups and leaves her without warning leaving $25 000 dollars in the bank for her to build a new life with.
I had really looked forward to "The Wife's Tale" being published as I had loved Lori Lansen's book "The Girls" which looked sensitively at the lives of conjoined twins. I thought that the premise of the book sounded really promising, after all what woman cannot identify with struggling with her weight and body image or being stuck in a rut and wanting to change her life? Unfortunately this is a book that failed to live up to its promise and was pretty dull.
I struggled through the first 100 pages of the book which charted Mary and Gooch's dull life together and Mary's self hatred and food and body image obsessions. Life as a morbidly obese woman is no fun as she struggles to even bend down to tie her shoelaces and other people look at her with disgust. I suppose the section which described how Mary went from being a fat child to a slim and pretty teenager to an obese middle aged woman was reasonably interesting and it was good to see inside the mind of somebody who compulsively overeats. How Gooch managed to put up with such a boring woman for 25 years was beyond me and I found myself cheering him on when he finally picked up and left her.
I was really hoping that the book would liven up when Gooch finally left and Mary was forced to come out of her comfort zone and start living her life instead of hiding away from the world. She decides to track Gooch down which takes her from the small Canadian town where she has always lived to Toronto and then onto an aeroplane to pastures new. Will she be reunited with her husband or will her journey lead her to a new path? By the time I had ploughed through almost 400 pages wittering on about Mary's dull thoughts and dull interactions with strangers I was past caring what happened to her.
The problem with "The Wife's Tale" is that so little seems to happen in the book, the plot is one that could have been developed better so that there was more going on. If you do not have a strong plot then you need characters who are engaging but Mary was the only real character in the book and she is as dull as ditchwater, a woman who has no verve or spark at all. The voyage of discovery seems to be more of a day trip.
There are some books which you race to the end because the story is so gripping that you cannot bear to put the book down. Others you race through because you want it to end so that you can chuck it into the pile of books that you will discard as they are not worth reading again and unfortunately "The Wife's Tale" falls into the second category. "A Wife's Tale" is a dull book about a dull woman who lives a dull life and it is not worth wasting your time reading it.