Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The wife's tale (Lansens)

Having read both of Lori Lansen's earlier books, Rush Home Road, and the Orange-listed The Girls, I was particularly keen to read The wife's tale, and was happy that Virago were kind enough to send me a copy to review.

This is a novel about a woman finding herself and being transformed in the process. Mary Gooch is morbidly obese; this is one of the first and most important things we learn about her. The first chapter sees her stuffing herself with food to feed the hunger within herself; we then begin to learn how the pounds piled on after the deaths of her parents, and after miscarriages, and other unhappy life events. On the face of it however, Mary doesn't seem completely unhappy - she loves her husband and they are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

The night before the wedding anniversary, Gooch, Mary's husband doesn't come home. He leaves a note saying that he has won the lottery, deposits some money in their jont account, and vanishes. Mary sets off on a journey to find him, but in the process ends up finding herself in a way that she never had the chance to do. There is trouble along the way - lost passports, unfriendly in-laws, but each time Mary manages eventually to pick herself up and start again, becoming stronger in the process. Throughout the book I was hooked to find out what would happen to Mary and whether she would find Gooch. I won't giveaway what happens at the end, suffice to say that the book concludes with Mary making a normal tuna sandwich and eating it out of hunger rather than comfort.

In some ways, Lori Lansen's writing and stories are reminiscent of those of Anne Tyler or Carol Shields, dealing with small town life in the US/Canada, but I felt that this novel had a lot more pace than either of the others. If you like Anne Tyler or Carol Shields, then do seek out Lansens, although I think that The girls, dealing with the lives of a pair of conjoined twins, is slightly more gripping due to its extremely unusual


  1. I enjoyed The Girls, but not Anne Tyler's books. Does that spoil your theory?!

    This one sounds ineresting. I think I'll keep an eye out for it - especially if it turns up on the Orange list tomorrow.

  2. I love Anne Tyler and Carol Shields so this sounds like a winner for me! I really like the sound of this one. Great review, Verity!

  3. Thanks for this review, I really enjoyed The Girls but that is the only one of Lori Lansen's that I have read.

  4. Jackie - ok, that's interesting! It was only a vague theory...

    Rachel - think you'd enjoy some Lansens - modern and refreshing contrast to the world of VMCs.

    Dot - The girls was extremely good.

  5. To me Lansens' screenwriting experience distances her from both Shields and Tyler (although I think a couple of Tyler's novels have been filmed and some of Shields' short stories, and Swann of course); I find her more plot-focussed in general. The Wife's Tale was not my favourite of her novels but I do really like the fact that all three of the novels take place in the same region and like knowing more about Mary Gooch from that perspective.

  6. BIP - that is a good point; it does make a subtle difference to the writing, I guess I was thinking more about the subject matter/small town themes. Definitely more plot with Lansens, and more gripping stories.


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