This is a tricky review to write. On one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed Wife 22 – Melanie Gideon is funny. I like her writing style. But (and there’s always a but) the plot was ridiculous and by the end, I just couldn’t overlook that fact.
Wife 22 is the story of Alice Buckle, a 40-something woman, wife and mother, drama teacher and Facebook chatter and Googler of solutions. Alice decides to take part in an online survey called “Marriage in the 21st Century”. She’s assigned a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101) and before long she finds herself revealing her innermost thoughts to a complete stranger.
“‘Bored’ is not the reason I’m participating in the study. I’m participating because this year I turn 45, which is the same age my mother was when she died. If she were alive I would be talking to her instead of taking this survey. We would be having the conversation I imagine mothers have with their daughters when they’re in their mid-forties. We would talk about…the stubborn ten pounds we gain and lose over and over again, and about how hard it is to find a trustworthy plumber…. My mother will never be a grandmother. Never have a gray eyebrow hair. Never eat my tuna casserole. That’s why I’m participating in this study.”
So, the plot. Some reviewers found the fact that Alice takes part in a survey without really knowing anything about the study, who was running it or what the data would be used for, hard to believe. I was prepared to overlook that. What I couldn’t overlook was the fact that Alice starts questioning her marriage because she’s falling for Researcher 101. Was I not reading properly? The exchanges between Alice and Researcher 101 were hardly flirty – I think I’ve had more risqué conversations with the postman… and so all of a sudden, Alice’s friends are urging her to ‘break things off’ with Researcher 101… What? Had ‘things’ started? That is where the plot fell down for me.
In addition to her marriage supposedly crumbling, both Alice and her husband, William, are retrenched from their jobs. Alice suspects her son is gay and wanting to come out and believes her teenage daughter has an eating disorder. Add to that, three house guests who seem to be there for an indefinite amount of time and an important milestone for Alice relating to the death of her mother. Perhaps Alice is super-strong and super-together because quite frankly, I would have lost my shit by this point.
And so to the good bits. Gideon is a terrific writer. She’s funny, imaginative and her sense of humour has shades of Helen Fielding (in fact I had to check whether Gideon was in fact British, her sense of humour was so sarcastic). Gideon employs a variety of writing styles in Wife 22 (including emails, stage play scripts, Facebook entries, the survey question and answers) – some people might find the chopping and changing annoying but I enjoyed it as it kept the pace and matched Alice’s somewhat scatter-brained approach to everything.
“That night I can’t sleep. I wake at 3 a.m. and just for kicks decide to weigh myself. Why not? What else do I have to do?”
Also, for those that dare, the survey questions (all ninety of them) are listed at the end of the book.
Strangely, whilst the character of William is something of a whizz in the kitchen as well as the fact that there are numerous pot-luck dinners with an international theme, no particular food or dish was calling my name…until the very end when there is a brief reference to a kumquat and rhubarb compote. I love rhubarb (and always have some stewed rhubarb and raspberries in the fridge, perfect with vanilla yogurt), and in searching for a new rhubarb recipe, I happened across this delicious little number – Pear and Rhubarb Compote. Get amongst it.
3/5 I started thinking this book might be a 4 because it made me laugh… But by the end, I just wasn’t feeling the love.