A review by C J Dee
- Page count: 273 [excluding acknowledgements and reading group questions]
- Format: Paperback
- Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
- Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5 stars
Arthur Winthrop is the ageing headmaster of Lancaster School, an elite Vermont prep school. Arthur Winthrop is a husband and father. Arthur Winthrop was just arrested for wandering through Central Park – naked.
It’s not until he is taken to a police interrogation room that Arthur tells his story of a student-teacher relationship that has escalated to much worse crimes.
The Headmaster’s Wife is separated into three sections. The first is from Arthur Winthrop’s point of view, the second is from Arthur’s wife Elizabeth’s point of view, and the final is from a school friend of Elizabeth’s point of view.
The characters in The Headmaster’s Wife are confronting and feel real. This is especially true given that the author used his own personal grief to fuel their personalities and describe their feelings.
For the first half of the The Headmaster’s Wife I almost hated Arthur. Here was this old man in his late 50s who is stalking, creeping, blackmailing and sleeping with a student of the school of which he is headmaster. However, once the twist takes place, about halfway through the book, there is a deep sense of pity for this sad man who has broken so far from who he used to be that he can’t even recognize his own life.
The plot was well formed, not too far drawn out, and managed to hold my attention despite not being my usual choice of genre.
I didn’t like The Headmaster’s Wife. Wait, stay with me – I have a point. The fact that I didn’t like it is based entirely of my misconception of what the book would be after reading its blurb. I expected a thriller or crime novel but was confronted with a book that was an emotionally-complex look into different ways of dealing with grief. It was very confronting and a bit unexpected. Coupled this with the fact that Arthur Winthorp was very squicky until the novel’s twist, the book just rubbed me the wrong way from the get-go.
Are you still with me? Good, hold out for just a bit longer. I still have a point.
Despite the fact that The Headmaster’s Wife will never be one of my favorite novels, it does what it aims to do very well. If you know what you’re getting in to when you start reading it, are ready to give a bit of a slimy character the benefit of the doubt, and enjoy tales with deep roots in real grief and tragedy then The Headmaster’s Wife will give you an enjoyable story that you won’t soon forget.