Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 6, 2018

A Beautiful Young Wife, by Tommy Wieringa, translated by Sam Garrett

I meant to read this (like a couple of other books) for #NovNov Novellas in November, but like most of my reading plans, that didn’t happen…

A Beautiful Young Wife is unsettling reading.  It’s about the breakup of a relationship, one that was never on a very firm footing anyway, and one that (like so many) doesn’t survive the arrival of the first child.  It is disarmingly honest about its central protagonist, Edward Landauer, an eminent virologist, who at the age of 42 has everything he wants… except a wife.  Julie Myerson at The Guardian describes it as

an examination of the ageing male heart – a dissection as subtle and tender as it is, ultimately, unnerving.

and yes it is, but it’s also more than that, and I’m not sure from her review if we are on the same page when it comes to closer examination:

For this is a wonderfully disconcerting piece of work which, on a second and even a third reading, only seems to grow more expansive and multifaceted while managing at the same time to remain mysterious and tightly furled.

For me, it’s disconcerting to see reviewers focus on the age difference between the couple, rather than other issues.  While Wieringa lovingly sketches the love-at-first-sight romance, my suspicions are that Edward is in love with the idea of a wife, rather than the actual human being he has so fortuitously found.

Ruth is, as she has to be, beautiful.  I don’t know in the age of Tinder if there are still ‘personals’ in the press, but they used to make amusing reading… all those women vaguely looking for companionship and romance, and all those men with a shopping list of attributes, all looking for someone who had to be attractive, shorter, with a specified shade of hair and interested in his lifestyle.  Ruth’s beauty overwhelms Edward who is fifteen years older than her, and as the reader learns from a dinner party autopsy of their early relationship, there were magical moments:

She excites him terribly, but he doesn’t want to ruin it by being too greedy, by revealing his desperate longing.  More than ever, he realises now, being in love connects him with the boy he once was, with the first time, his mouth dry and his heart pounding, the time of all times that followed.  He had never married and had never been with one woman for long; he had always remained a collector of first times.  (p.9)

Hmm.  Are we liking this man?  Ruth’s father cynically sneers at the age difference, saying that he’d hoped that she would take care of [him] some day, but the way things look now, it’ll be your wheelchair she’s pushing.  But it’s not the age difference that alerts the reader to the problems: it’s that Edward is surprised by her sexual experience because he had forgotten that people her age already know everything.  He’s pleased that she has few girlfriends because girlfriends sooner or later turned into a conspiracy—he remembered how they would go to the ladies’ room together, their secret domain; after they came back, his position always felt compromised.  Then there’s the hints of possessiveness, wondering if she’d done it with male friends from college and interpreting a firm handshake as an assertion of power.  He just wants them to go… he wants Ruth all to himself.

And then, fatally, Ruth decides to have a child for all the wrong reasons:

There is another thought inside her that barely owns up to words: with a child, her relationship with this introverted man will gain more meaning—the dynamics of Dritte im Bunde, the third in a chord.  The prospect of being with him all her life, without someone else to disturb the peace, makes her feel trapped.  (p. 54)

Well, they certainly get their peace disturbed because the baby doesn’t sleep…

For me, it’s not so much an examination of the ageing heart, it’s a cautionary tale for women.

Sam Garrett’s translation is pitch perfect.

Author: Tommy Wieringa
Title: A Beautiful Young Wife (Een Mooie Jonge Vrouw)
Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2016, first published 2014, 123 pages
ISBN: 9781925321180
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: A Beautiful Young Wife


Responses

  1. Stories about possessive men, obsessing and eventually destroying their relationships, always make me uncomfortable. Not because I’m like that (I hope!) but because you can see what’s coming. And children – we are there for the child, not the other way round.

    Like

    • Absolutely. But it’s apparently quite common, that people think a child will save a marriage.

      Like

  2. I love your conclusion.

    Like

  3. I think I would be with you about this, most definitely. And a child is never going to solve any relationship probs…

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    • No indeed. Lovely as they (mostly) are, children can put enormous strain on the best of relationships.

      Liked by 1 person


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