Giveaway now closed.
I didn’t mean to die so young. I don’t suppose anyone does. I don’t suppose many people would willingly fail to reach their thirty-seventh birthday or their eighth wedding anniversary or see out their daughter’s seventh year on the planet. I suspect there aren’t that many people who would voluntarily relinquish all that, given the choice.
Rachel has been dead a year. At the end of an evening out with her husband, Max, she collapsed and died of heart failure, a pre-existing condition they were unaware of. Now Rachel’s stuck somewhere, a void; a place in which is completely alone; a place she describes as ‘Just whiteness spreading out into the infinite beyond…’. Her only respite is when the whiteness clears and she’s allowed a front-row seat to watch the lives of her loved ones.
Max, unsurprisingly, is struggling to cope but when, at the beginning of the novel, he meets up with Harriet, Rachel’s best friend, she declares, ‘You’re like the poster boy for single fatherhood’. Before their catch-up is over, Harriet’s suggesting Max sign-up to a dating website and start meeting some new friends.
‘You’d only have to tick the friendship box for now.’
For now? What’s Harriet playing at? Isn’t she supposed to be my best friend? Why she’s encouraging my husband to think about a time when he might be ticking anything other than the friendship box? If this is her idea of providing emotional support, I think both Max and I can survive without it.
But, of course, Rachel can only watch as Harriet makes a suggestion that, for all his protesting, eventually Max will act on.
And that’s not all Rachel has to watch, there’s also Ella, aged seven, unable to comprehend her mother’s death.
‘Why did my mummy die and other mummies don’t die?…Georgia at school says mummies don’t die if you’re good because God only punishes bad people. Did Mummy die ‘cos I did something bad?’
The novel follows the structure of the seven stages of grief, stages that Max and Ella have to go through on earth but also stages that Rachel mirrors as she watches them, Harriet, her mother and parents-in-law come to terms with her death and then structure lives in which she is a presence as opposed to present. There are some excellent set pieces that show the tensions between various family members; watch out particularly for Ella’s birthday party, it’s excruciating to picture it as it plays out.
I enjoyed the perspective Beckerman chose to take for The Dead Wife’s Handbook. It was interesting to see it narrated from the dead person’s point of view and made the book all the more heartbreaking, watching a wife and mother unable to comfort her husband and daughter. However, the framing device which controlled when and where Rachel could see Max and Ella sometimes drew attention to the mechanics of the tale. On occasion, Rachel’s comments about when the mist had reappeared highlighted just how convenient a moment it was and although this didn’t spoil the book for me, it did take me out of the story for a moment and led me to think about the writer at work.
The Dead Wife’s Handbook is an emotional read from an unusual perspective. Make sure you have a box of tissues to hand.
Thanks to Penguin and the lovely Hannah Beckerman, I have a signed copy of The Dead Wife’s Handbook to giveaway. To win, simply leave a comment below before 12pm, Sunday 16th February. The winner will be chosen at random and notified soon after the closing time. International entries welcome.
Edit: Giveaway winner
I’ve allocated everyone a number in order of entry:
1 – Pooja Shah
2 – Cath Martin
3 – Jennifer Wallace
4 – Annecdotist
5 – outonthefringes
6 – Claire Thinking
7 – Suzy
8 – Rebecca Foster
9 – Nick
10 – theabhishekkr
11 – Martha
12 – bookboodle
13 – cleopatralovesbooks
14 – Sheila
15 – Ann
16 – Danielle Forrest
17 – Kiri Mills
18 – Katy T
And the random number generator says:
Congratulations, cleopatralovesbooks, there’s an email on its way to you. Thank you to everyone who entered.