THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE
Author: Thomas Christopher Greene
Atlantic Aus RRP $27.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Two sides of a marriage are revealed in The Headmaster’s Wife, a well-written and fast-paced piece of psychological suspense. All is not what it seems and the piece-by-piece unveiling of the ‘truth’ is cleverly done by author Thomas Christopher Greene.
Set primarily at an elite prep school in Vermont, the story opens with a man being questioned after being found walking naked in Central Park. The man is Arthur Winthrop, a middle-aged headmaster at an elite prep school in Vermont; the actions leading to his arrest are completely out of character, but as he explains himself (through a series of flashbacks), the reader is left wondering whether his story can be trusted. He confesses to a passionate affair with Betsy Pappas, a scholarship student, that turns sour when she falls for a classmate. He then confesses to killing her.
Mid-way through the novel, the point of view switches to that of Arthur’s wife. She tells how she met and married Arthur and had a son with him, how she had once thought that “this was all she wanted, wasn’t it?”. Her life as the headmaster’s wife was “perfectly scripted” and had “symmetry and meaning” … but somewhere, somehow, it all went wrong. Somehow, there is nothing left.
This is one of those books where it’s hard to discuss without revealing the spoiler. So, I’ll reiterate that all is not what it seems, that even the themes of the novel are not quite what the blurb will have readers think (that’s not a bad thing). It is about marriage and obsessive love, but it is also about loss and how people cope with it, about perception and how events can muddle it, and about deception and betrayal, both within and out of a relationship. It’s also about the stories people tell themselves to justify things or in an attempt to make peace with something … and how sometimes the fiction can become one person’s reality. It’s actually quite sad once the truth comes out.
Overall, a decent read, although the ending seemed a bit tidy (almost as if the author had run out of steam) and I didn’t find myself really caring about the characters in the way that I’d have liked. There was a detachment to them that kept them all at arm’s length. In hindsight knowing the full story, it’s understandable, but as a means for propelling the story forward, it could make readers fall short of connecting fully with the story.
Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.
Bookish treat: Salt and vinegar chips. Just because.