Content Note: (critical treatment of) sexism
Joan and Joe Castleman have been married for many years and Joe has finally reached the pinnacle of his career: he is about to receive the most prestigious prize for his literature. They are on their way to Helsinki to receive the prize when Joan decides that it is time for her to leave her husband, finally. Reflecting on their relationship that started at college in the 50s, she wonders how they ended up where they are now.
The Wife is a very critical look at the literary establishment and its sexist ways and as such, it is definitely a piece of literature I appreciated a lot. But reading it was also a little frustrating and in the end, the book didn’t win me over entirely.
The Wife cuts to the heart of the matter of how male and sexist the literary establishment is. It is sharply observed and makes its points very well. I found its depiction absolutely realistic and I always love it when someone takes a feminist position – and that is certainly the case here.
I often struggled with the writing style that was a little dreary and had a tendency to feel longer than it is (the novel is rather slim). And I would have wished that there was a little intersectionality here, but the book is blindingly white and only takes into account white men and white women.
But what was absolutely frustrating to me was the ending. Dammit, I hated it. I was waiting for a sense of liberation at the end, but the ending we got didn’t give me that at all. [SPOILER] Joe’s death was like an absolution for him, especially since it made Joan not go through with her plan of revealing herself as the main author of his works. [/SPOILER] I didn’t think that they deserved that ending, and I certainly didn’t want it as a reader.
Still, it is an interesting read that makes invisible structures very visible and tangible. If it had found a better ending, I think I would have really liked it. As is, my reaction was rather lukewarm.
Summarizing: worth reading but not without its frustrations.