A mad housewife learns that her problems may not all be imaginary in Chapman’s disquieting debut.
Somewhere in an unnamed Scandinavian country, in an isolated village, a middle-aged woman named Marta Bjornstad has gone off her medication, unbeknownst to her doting husband, Hector. The time is apparently the present, although there is not a smartphone in sight, and the Internet is only referred to once. Hector, a schoolteacher 20 years her senior, has always been an avuncular figure in Marta’s life, ever since he rescued her, as a recently orphaned young woman, from a desperate situation whose particulars are shrouded in a haze of amnesia. Marriage to Hector has, for the last two decades or so, been pleasant but always overshadowed by hypercritical mother-in-law Matilda, who, despite her relief at Hector’s belated marriage, has always made Marta feel inadequate, however strictly she follows the precepts outlined in Matilda’s wedding gift, a retro guidebook entitled How to be a Good Wife. Now, however, Marta’s delicate equilibrium has been upset by empty-nest syndrome: Her only child, Kylan, has left home for a job in the city and is engaged to Katya, who, disturbingly, reminds Marta of her younger, dimly recalled self. As the medication wears off, Marta begins to experience some startling visions. She sees a thin girl, apparently a ballet dancer, in dreams and in real time. Like a specter out of Sixth Sense, the girl beckons, seemingly desperate to tell Marta something. Gradually, it dawns on Marta and the reader that her hallucinations may actually be emerging suppressed memories. Without spoilers it’s impossible to specify further exactly how these snippets of recalled trauma reach critical mass. Suffice to say that the twist that propels expectations in a whole new direction is masterfully wrought. However, the outcome, driven by some highly improbable circumstances and a demonstrable lack of ingenuity on the part of the protagonist, will leave readers, particularly feminists and/or victims’ advocates, very dissatisfied indeed.
Gripping but rather implausible.