Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: The Headmaster's Wife

When I looked at the Amazon testimonials for this book, The Headmaster's Wife, they were dizzying. So many accolades for the accomplishment of this novel. I will say that the author gets points for creating an engrossing tale with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. Also, he explores the world of memory, and how we can distort things into something else by the fractured events of trauma. But somehow, for me, the details just didn't sit well. Especially since so much of the book centered around lust. If you can get beyond that, then perhaps you will feel all the praise is warranted.

The story begins with the police finding the headmaster, Arthur Winthrop, wandering naked in Central Park. They begin to question him and he unravels his story from "the beginning." It all started with a sexual dalliance with a student at his elite Vermont boarding school. Really?  Really. I thought about putting it down, but I will admit that I kept reading because of the blurb on the front of the novel which said something about the first half sucking you in and then the second half blowing away your previous perceptions. Which, it does ... but the lust and the retelling of sexual liaisons continue throughout the novel. I just couldn't get behind it.

The author certainly did manage to unseat everything you thought you knew about the circumstances at the end of the first half. Arthur Winthrop is, indeed, an unreliable narrator. The first half barely mentions the headmaster's wife, but the second half focuses entirely on her and on a more faithful account of what led the headmaster to wander in the park without any clothes.

This is certainly not a novel I could recommend to my mother. But, as I said, if you can put aside whatever discomfort you might have with the thoughts of an older man attempting to seduce and capture the heart of a young girl, then perhaps you would enjoy the stunning developments which play out in the second half of this novel. Let's just say what you thought you understood, you didn't really understand fully.

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