Maybe it’s because I’ve just celebrated a significant anniversary, and I’ve been musing about love and marriage and relationships for the past week. Maybe. But it seems to me that I’m seeing wives everywhere. Not actual wives. But books about wives, or plays and television shows about wives, with “wives” referenced in the title. I mean, what’s with wives these days?
Of course this isn’t new. Take Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath or Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. Or even Louisa May Allcott’s Good Wives, for instance. These are famous titles from the past that everyone knows. And over the generations there have been more books and pamphlets than you can shake a stick at with “Good Wife” in the title. Mostly providing advice on “how to be one.” But, I don’t want to go there. And there’s the well known television series “The Good Wife,” which is definitely not to be confused with advice on “how to be a good wife.” Ha. And of course there are all those “Real Housewives of … Wherever” reality TV shows. Ickk. I don’t want to go there either.
My friend Barb said something about the wife thing the other day in a book club e-mail. How we seem to be reading a lot of books about wives. And I wondered, at the time, if “wives” are the new “girls.” As in all those “girl” titles a couple of years ago: Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, The Lost Girls. Did it start with Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, do you think? But I digress.
I actually wanted to talk about some of these recent books about wives. Like The Paris Wife, which is a wonderful book, in my opinion. It’s the fictionalized story of Ernest Hemingway, his shy, first wife Hadley, and their life together, set mostly in Paris in the twenties, and told from Hadley’s point of view. If you haven’t read it, you must. Paula McLain is a fabulous writer, an extremely thorough researcher, and she really, really knows her Hemingway. I wrote about her work in a post called Reading Round the Subject, if you’re interested. I suggest that before you read McLain’s fictional version, you read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s memoir of the same period. Reading round the subject, as a character in one of Kate Atkinson’s books says.
We read The Paris Wife a few years ago in our book club. This year we’ll be reading The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin. The Aviator’s Wife, which has been compared to The Paris Wife, is the story of Charles Lindbergh’s wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and their life together. Like Hadley Hemingway, she is described as “self-effacing and passive,” and “willing to stand in the tall shadow” of her famous, and domineering husband. Benjamin’s book takes us from the early years of the Lindbergh marriage, the scandal and media frenzy around the kidnapping and murder of their eldest child, and through their tumultuous life together. Benjamin’s book had great reviews and spent some time on the best seller list. Ironically not as long as Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s own 1955 book. Gift from the Sea apparently spent 46 weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list.
When I was doing my research on the book, I was interested to find a wide range of reviews of The Aviator’s Wife on Good Reads. Many readers rave about Benjamin’s book. Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a well educated, accomplished woman, she became a well known literary figure, and several readers feel Benjamin missed the mark in conveying her character, underplaying her intelligence, her “spirit and courage.” Other reviews, unfairly I think, criticize the fictionalized character of Anne Morrow Lindbergh for deferring to her husband, and not taking charge of her own life when she was clearly so capable. Perhaps they expected a different outcome than history provides. I remember readers saying the same thing about Hadley Hemingway, in Paris Wife. And like Hemingway, Benjamin’s character is a historical figure; how can a writer be expected to make the woman other than what she really was?
I’ll decide for myself soon. Like I did with The Paris Wife, I’m going to read some of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s own non-fiction about her life, as well as the fictional. She’s published several volumes of journals, letters, and memoirs. To start me off, I’ve ordered her book A Gift from the Sea, as well as Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife. I plan to pack them for our holiday in Quebec and New Brunswick in August. So I’ll be reading round the subject while we drive across the country. Or, at least, halfway across the country.
The other book about a wife on our book club list is Tanis Rideout’s Above All Things. Rideout is a Canadian writer primarily known for her poetry; this is her first novel. Above All Things is the story of British mountain climber George Mallory, his wife Ruth, and Mallory’s third and final attempt to summit Mount Everest in 1924. Rideout’s plot alternates between Mallory and his young companion, Sandy Irvine, as they battle for the summit, and Ruth waiting at home. Choosing flowers for a dinner party, doing the laundry, and waiting for word of her husband, not knowing, in that earlier time before satellite phones and Instagram, that she was already a widow.
Reviewers describe Rideout’s work as “elegant”, with “precise language and perfect pacing.” This is an adventure story, and a love story, and one that deals with the question of whether love and marriage can compete with the “romance of adventure.” Like Diana Princess of Wales once famously said, “There were three of us in this marriage. So it was a bit crowded.” So too was Ruth Mallory’s marriage a bit crowded, except she was competing with a mountain, with Mallory’s obsession to conquer Everest.
You can hear Tanis Rideout herself speak about, and read a passage from, her book in the video below.
One reviewer describes Above All Things as “The Paris Wife meets Into Thin Air,” which made me laugh. The Paris Wife… again. Mallory’s frozen body was finally found on Everest in 1999, seventy-five years after his fatal climb. And three years after the ill-fated Everest climb described in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Krakauer, in his book, looks at the complex chain of events that lead to so many deaths on the mountain that day in 1996. And according to one reviewer, Rideout does something similar. She examines the interplay of personality, obsession, drive, and the series of disastrous choices which lead the Mallory’s death. Both books are compelling, apparently. I almost ruined our vacation one year because I couldn’t put Krakauer’s book down, I was so engrossed. Rideout’s novel now tops my summer reading list. But I think I’ll try to read it before we leave home.
You wouldn’t believe the plethora of books there are out there with “wife” or “wives” in the title. I still don’t get what’s with that. Of course there are trends in book titles. Hence the “girl” books. And remember all those absurdly long titles from a few years ago, in the vein of “The Old Man who Did Something Stupid and Then Something Weird Happened?” Those were just annoying, I thought.
Now before I go, I must tell you a funny kismet kind of thing.
Since I’ve been working on this post, I’ve been reading Kate Atkinson’s latest Jackson Brodie novel, Big Sky. I’m really enjoying it, although it starts off a bit slow. In this latest Brodie book, the character of Reggie, all grown up, reappears. The same character who was featured in an earlier book in the series, When Will There Be Good News. It was young Reggie who kept saying she was “reading round the subject.” Well, she was quoting her tutor, to be exact. The tutor who loved Hemingway, and made Reggie read “seminal texts,” including one of my favourite Hemingway stories “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” I remember writing about that Brodie book, and the character of Reggie, when I wrote that earlier post on Paula McLain and her book The Paris Wife.
And now, just as I’m writing about The Paris Wife again, Jackson Brodie, and Reggie, and reading round the subject are all back.
See? Kismet. Everything comes back to Hemingway. Like six degrees of separation. You should have seen Hubby roll his eyes when I told him that. “Suz, everything always comes back to Hemingway with you.” Ha. Like he hasn’t said that one before.
Now, what about you my friends? What are you reading these days? Any books about wives?
As you probably know by now, I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon. All the books I review can be found on Amazon. If you purchase a book by clicking on one of my links I will receive a small commission. Thanks for doing that, by the way.
Here are all the links to books in this post: Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife. Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky and When Will There Be Good News. Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea. Tanis Rideout’s Above All Things. Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.