Title: The Wife
Author: Meg Wolitzer
The Wife opens with Joan Castleman making the decision to leave her husband, Joe while en route to Helsinki where he is to be honoured with the Helsinki Prize, a literary award which is the culmination of what he has worked for all his life. Meg Wolitzer takes the reader through the lives of Joe and Joan: from Joan’s days as a freshman at Smith. She goes on to have an affair with his professor, Joe. His marriage crumbles, his wife leaves him, taking their baby son with him. Joe and Joan move in together – while he attempts to write the great American novel, she works, supporting his writing dream and in the process abandoning her own writing ambitions. They raise their children, she works, she edits his writing, and ultimately writes his books for him, and he gets the accolades while she plays the dutiful wife by his side.
I found it hard to believe that she would, despite being the more talented, abandon her ambitions for his, and do it for as long as she does. The ending reveals the twist , although a savvy reader will spot this a third of the way through the book, when we learn that Joan was the master crafter of all his books, and that she did it tirelessly for years, whilst he garnered the writing prizes, had the affairs, and emotionally blackmailed her into doing more of his writing .
I did not enjoy this book – I found the plot implausible. Reviews have stated it delves into the sexual and feminist politics of the 60s, where women’s choices and advancement opportunities in fields that were seen traditionally as men’s limited women’s choices enough to stunt the ambitions of the talented, like Joan. Even given that take on it, I simply could not suspend my disbelief about a life thrown away so convincingly in that way.
The more interesting part though was the author’s exploration of the woman’s voice written by Joan in her husband’s books, and how his own attempts of doing the same fell flat. He simply could not write in a woman’s voice. This was what his success rested on and his big draw as a writer. He was seen as transcending the divide between male and female writers. And yet it was all a farce.
My writing choices are always influenced by a whole host of sources, and I cannot remember how The Wife made it to my reading list. I am glad it did anyway – as this is the year I go back to reading everything that has made it onto my reading list.