Literary Wives: A Separation

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read A Separation by Katie Kitamura! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

a separation

A Separation takes place in the aftermath of the implosion of a marriage. The unnamed narrator (right? She doesn’t have a name?) is separated from her husband, Christopher, but he asked her to keep it a secret for now. Six months in and he’s missing in Greece. His overbearing mother calls the wife to ask her where he is and sends her to Greece to find him. The wife travels to Greece, stays in the hotel Christopher was at and waits for him to return, the staff at the hotel telling her that he was traveling inland to research his book.

While she waits for him, she ruminates on her marriage, on her separation, what she wants for her life moving forward. She decides that she is going to ask him for a divorce when he returns but when his body is found, she’s suddenly the widow even though she feels like the ex. His parents come to take his body back and the wife is involved in their grief while trying to figure out how she feels and what she should tell them or not tell them.

My Thoughts

Before I read the book, I kept seeing it be described as ‘searing’ and ‘suspenseful.’ I think it was also called a ‘whodunit.’ For me, it felt more like a critical darling, the kind of spare prose that usually marks a book as a Man Booker contender.

For the first 100 or so pages, I was just waiting for the story to present itself. Was Christopher just off researching his book? Was this going to be about the divorce request? Was he messing around with someone in a Greek village? Did something more sinister happen? Was it going to turn into a mystery?

Well Christopher is found dead and foul play is suspected but because it’s in Greece and there are no funds for anything, the police are like ‘yeah we’re probably not going to figure this out’ and the family is like ‘that is not acceptable but we will go home and accept it.’ The whole thing was kind of a letdown after Kitamura introduced us to a few unsavoury characters and set up the infidelity that was an open secret in the marriage.

I thought maybe the story would go somewhere once the husband was found dead but no, not really. The wife struggles for a minute about whether or not to tell her in-laws that she and Christopher were separated, had been for months. But she quickly decides not to and then she winds up gaining an apartment and an inheritance from his estate.

There was a brief moment where I wondered if she killed Christopher. But even if that were the case, the reveal was so buried that it was basically pointless.

Overall the book felt smug and pretentious, too slick to be enjoyable. And I am very much over a stream of consciousness narrative like this. Can we just clearly mark dialogue and who says what? Is that so basic that we can’t do it anymore?

I’m grateful that it was a short read.

What does the book say about being a wife?

In terms of what the novel said about being a wife, it felt more like it was about what kind of a husband Christopher was. He was unfaithful many times over, he withheld information about how she was viewed by others, he looked down on the work that she did. Right from the beginning it was about what her obligation was to Christopher, to his family and not really about what her life looked like without him. It felt like we knew so little about her without Christopher.

Perhaps wife and husband and marriage itself are only words that conceal much more unstable realities, more turbulent than can be contained in a handful of syllables, or any amount of writing.

I think their marriage was an uneven one from the very beginning and she will likely carry the same mistakes into her new relationship. Along with a nice apartment and inheritance.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! Join us in August when we read Ties by Dominic Starnone.

8 thoughts on “Literary Wives: A Separation

  1. I thought this book was all about the narrator’s introspection about her relationship with her husband and her surprising reaction to her death, her feeling of responsibilities in the marriage to him and his family. I didn’t think the plot was the point. I’m sorry you didn’t like it, but I didn’t think it was smug at all.

    Although the book didn’t say much about their relationship when they were married, it said something about the ties of marriage, which the narrator obviously felt, although subconsciously. The death made her realize that she wasn’t ready to let go of Christopher, despite having decided to ask him for a divorce.

    • I mean, I was super jetlagged and dealing with a jetlagged baby when I read this. But I was also distracted by certain things about this book (the waiting for the plot to reveal itself, the experimental prose for example) and they pulled me away from a deeper reading.
      I do think it was smug which in turn made me like it less. I was surprised that the narrator didn’t seem to be at the center of her own story. She kind of absorbed what was happening in Christopher’s life, thought about how Maria was affected, Isabella and Mark. It’s not until the very end that she comes to any kind of conclusions about how she wants to live her own life.
      I see what you’re saying but I don’t think I’m wrong in how I viewed the book. Our own experiences are going to colour how we read and methinks if we were in an actual book club we’d have a very interesting discussion!

  2. It sounds like we felt pretty similar about this book. I kept thinking it was going to go somewhere and then it didn’t. I really don’t even know why there was so much time spent on Maria and Stefano – I kept thinking there would be a reason for it.
    I like what Kay says about it being about the *ties* of marriage – I can totally see that now. Too bad she couldn’t have written about it in a more entertaining way.

  3. From what you’ve said about the story – and I haven’t read it, although it’s on my “someday” TBR, nothing really pressing me in that direction at this time – it seems to fit that the dialogue wouldn’t be set apart from the surrounding text in traditional quotation marks. I think some stories just don’t *sound* that way, whereas in some books, like say a Dickens novel, you can hear the dialogue being spoken in those perfect little quote marks. While it does bother me when I feel as though the writer is only choosing to present dialogue as though it’s too cool for quotes, I admire the choice when I feel like it came organically out of the story. But maybe that was part of your issue with the story, that you felt like she was just trying too hard?

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