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.
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.
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.