Book #55

The Editor's Wife by Clare Chambers

When aspiring novelist Christopher Flinders drops out of university to write his masterpiece (in between shifts as a fish delivery man and builder's mate), his family is sceptical.

But when he is taken up by the London editor Owen Goddard and his charming wife Diana it seems success is just around the corner. Christopher's life has so far been rather short of charm - growing up in an unlovely suburb, with unambitious parents and a semi-vagrant brother - and he is captivated by his generous and cultured mentors. However, on the brink of realising his dream, Christopher makes a desperate misjudgement which results in disaster for all involved. Shattered, he withdraws from London and buries himself in rural Yorkshire, embracing a career and a private life marked by mediocrity.

Twenty years on a young academic researching into Owen Goddard seeks him out, and Christopher is forced to exhume his past, setting him on a path to a life-changing discovery. 

The Editor’s Wife isn’t something I would normally pick up - Penguin have recently republished it with a gorgeous new cover, and asked if I’d like to read it. Despite my initial feeling that it wouldn’t really be my thing, I soon found I was desperately enjoying myself. I tend to think I know who I am, but I really don’t.

We begin by meeting Christopher, who has found himself jobless and dispirited. He moves to Yorkshire, to a rustic little farmhouse, and attempts to mend. We meet his brother, his ex-wife, his recently passed parents, and see his life for what it is - mundane, undistinguished, and (for Christopher) mildly depressing. Until a letter arrives which throws everything into a spin and forces Christopher to consider his past.

The way Chambers throws us back in time is a wondrous moment. We think we know this guy until she assures us we don’t. Christopher’s account and admissions of his past are frank and almost heartbreaking. Chambers ensures her characters are deeply explored, perfectly human, and expertly characterised. I loved each of them, and wanted the best for them, even in the situations Chambers put them in, which were ones where there couldn’t be any winners, and even when they were behaving abhorrently. They felt incredibly real to me, people with complex lives and feelings, people with conundrums, people with desires.

I will admit the biggest appeal for me in this was just the routine small scandals which pepper most of our lives. Such everyday betrayals, so tiny in the grand scheme of the world; things we often find ourselves mixed up with. But, for me, a self-confessed nose, seeing these things happen behind closed doors,and being permitted my life’s wish of being a fly on the wall, was simply too delicious.

This is so very well crafted that I can see myself coming back to it in future. I’ve still been thinking over some of it in the days which have passed since I’ve finished. Chambers has truly created something gorgeous here, and I’m very keen to try some more of her offerings.