Emily Perkins’s Novel About My Wife recently won this year’s Believer Book Award, but has otherwise gone almost entirely unnoticed in the United States. I’m extremely glad that the folks at The Believer have now brought the book to my attention: Perkins has written a flat-out terrific novel, and I hope that the receipt of the prize will win her many more new readers.
Novel About My Wife is narrated by Tom, a Londoner and the father of a young child, in the aftermath of his wife’s death. As he looks back on the final months of their life together, Tom struggles to come to an understanding about what happened to Ann, and attempts to put himself in her head during the course of the events leading up to her death. I won’t go into the details of the plot, as I have no desire to spoil the novel’s spooky and emotionally fraught suspense for anyone. Suffice it to say that it’s an unusually involving book, and that I felt compelled to rush through the whole of it in under twenty-four hours.
Perkins’s novel is masterfully plotted, and she also does a fully convincing job of bringing Tom’s first-person voice to life on the page. More impressive still is the way she employs artful and often beautiful prose in order to capture all the subtleties of pitch and intensity in Tom’s emotional state as his life with Ann begins to unravel. The passage quoted below not only offers a lovely and well-observed peek into the everyday intimacy experienced by Tom and Ann, but also demonstrates the power of his love for her. In context—because we know that Ann will die, and Tom will never get to enjoy this kind of moment again—the scene is also shot through the desperation, fear, sadness, and grief. Perkins writes:
‘Oh, God, I’m so old to have a baby,’ Ann moaned from the bathroom in that half talking to herself, half talking to me voice that married people use….I loved that voice, I loved hearing Ann’s inner thoughts as they rose gently to the surface, a ribbon of intimate words floating out of her mouth on the bathroom steam and through the door to me, where I opportunistically sat, ostensibly waiting to clean my teeth but really living for that moment.
It’s a gorgeous passage, and only one of many in Perkins’s engrossing and moving novel.