In her signature crisp, exacting prose, Tuck’s (The Double Life of Liliane, 2015, etc.) seventh novel haunts the territory of marital jealously with delicacy and finesse.
The unnamed narrator of this slim book is a second wife, inheritor of two teenage stepchildren and all the well-thumbed habits of a previous marriage which consumed her husband’s youth and most of his passion. What the reader knows about the narrator’s husband is a series of small preferences—he is an avid tennis player; he “had good taste and dressed well—he wore bespoke shirts made in England”—from which we are led to infer both his basically callow nature and the narrator’s ambivalence toward her marriage. The narrator herself is far more interesting. She possesses a mimetic memory for incidental detail (she can recall outfits, menus, vintages of wine from events years in the past) coupled with a yearning for the kind of sophistication she imagines as wholly natural to the ex-wife our narrator refers to only as she. She is an almost entirely hypothetical creation whose habits, partialities, cultured languor, and equally cultured passion (before her marriage she was a gifted concert pianist) the narrator covets with a tricky blend of curiosity, jealousy, and desire. Indeed, so heady is the narrator’s longing for news of the ex-wife’s life, so convulsive the way she inserts herself into the shape the ex-wife has left behind, it is hard not to anticipate the story tending toward a climactic confrontation between the two wives after the fashion of a Hollywood psychodrama. Tuck is far too consummate and unusual a stylist to allow for any such bathos; however, the novel’s quiet rooms, fragmented form, sensual descriptions of food, wine, and fabric, and, above all, its dreamy pace combine to lull the reader into a reverie from which the actual plot’s sudden climax comes as a rude awakening.
Masterfully detailed and elegant in all its parts but ultimately a novel that prioritizes the virtuoso skill of its narration at the cost of a hastily staged conclusion.