The tale of three generations of the Northumbrian Tye family, told by three generations of Tye women – Betsy, Bell and Hetta.
The main focus is the men in their lives, in particular Will – Hetta’s brother, Bell’s nephew, Betsy’s grandson – who like his uncle before him, was inspired (in part) by The Night Climbers of Cambridge to climb one of the spires of King’s College, Cambridge, and, like his long dead uncle, fell.
The Wife is my first Meg Wolitzer. I only picked it up because I’d been unable to find The Interestings on the Barbican Library bookshelf, my appetite for that particular Wolitzer whetted by her recent turn on BBC Radio 4’s World Book Club.
It wasn’t until I looked at the cover of The Wife that I realised she’d written the book behind the recent film starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce. Not that I’ve seen the film, but it did mean I read the book knowing the final twist, and able to spot the clues en route.
Nine year old Dido skilfully looks after for her depressed mother, Eliza (who we soon learn is her aunt), in a windswept London council tower block. Some weekends she stays with her sort-of step-dad Giles and his newer girlfriend, Julia in the former family home – a fine north London residence.
Down in Cornwall we are introduced to Pearce who took on the family farm, reluctantly, when his father died. His separated sister Molly and her daughter Lucy live in a nearby town. Not one of the pretty ones.
Elizabethan madrigals and Roger Trevescan, a disgraced sixteenth century Cornish courtier, brings everything and everyone together.
Brothers Paul and Johnnie, each making their own way from working class to wealth, both love Louise, who we first meet one long hot summer when she is pregnant with daughter Anna.
There follows a series of shifts in time and place, from London where we see Louise’s life before motherhood and on into the alcohol infused decade that follows Anna’s birth, to Yorkshire having lost Anna and Paul to Paul’s new wife, Sonia and a new life in the country.
The pace then changes as we watch three stories unfold: Anna and David, Louise and Johnnie, Paul and Sonia.
Beautiful writing, all the more so knowing there will be no more from Helen Dunmore.