Saturday, October 13

Housewife Down - Alison Penton Harper

One day, after fifteen years of faithful but passionless wifely duty, Helen Robbins has enough. Instead of marinating the beef in a great red she drinks the wine and passes out in the bedroom, coming to when her husband, Robert, pulls in the drive. He's expecting Helen's usual, superlative culinary production, pulled out for yet another colleague, and he doesn't hesitate to voice his displeasure.
During dinner Robert complains about the vast number of incompetent drivers who threaten to damage his car on every outing, and Helen - uncharacteristically - goads him. Unable to back down in front of the guests, and put on the spot by the boss's wife, who's brother's a driving instructor, he agrees to sit a driving test. And when Andy, the instructor, slaps the dash, Robert slams on the breaks hard. Causing the air bags to inflate. And, in a bizarre freak accident, killing Robert instantly.
Over the following months Helen makes a number of startling discoveries, about herself and about Robert. She reunites with her sister after a thirteen year absence (Robert never liked her), sees opportunities where there was once repression, takes an unexpected trip to India, and learns that it's not to late to live her life.
More than chick lit, though definitely written for a female audience, Housewife Down is well crafted and deft, with some beautiful description ("perfectly pert cushion of lamb which flushed pink under the embarrassment of its own deliciousness") and sly touches of humour lightly scattered through. I even managed to move past the irritating misuse of "baited breath" (though, as you can see from the mention, not wholly moved on!).
In several places I suspected where the plot was going, and in each case was happily proved wrong, which is always a pleasant surprise, especially as the characters maintained their integrity throughout the novel. A library book, I saw a sequel on the shelves (Housewife Up), but I'm concerned it may detract from the original, and will therefore leave it a while before sampling. All in all a most satisfying novel. - Alex

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