Review: The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman

Tuesday 3 February 2015
Title: The Dead Wife's Handbook
Author: Hannah Beckerman
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 13th February 2014
Pages: 496
ISBN: 9780718178147
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4.5/5
Purchase: Amazon
'Today is my death anniversary. A year ago today I was still alive.'

Rachel, Max and their daughter Ellie had the perfect life - until the night Rachel's heart stopped beating.

Now Max and Ellie are doing their best to adapt to life without Rachel, and just as her family can't forget her, Rachel can't quite let go of them either. Caught in a place between worlds, Rachel watches helplessly as she begins to fade from their lives. And when Max is persuaded by family and friends to start dating again, Rachel starts to understand that dying was just the beginning of her problems.

As Rachel grieves for the life she's lost and the life she'll never lead, she learns that sometimes the thing that breaks your heart might be the very thing you hope for.

Note: The Dead Wife's Handbook has been sat on my Kindle since release, one of those books I planned on reading but just never got round to. Hannah Beckerman recently wrote this brilliant article about the lack of reviews for books written by women in serious publications. A quick look through my reviews since late March (2014), when I started the blog, shows that out of the 200+ reviews I have posted, there's a pretty even balance for male and female authors, with just a couple more for female. I read what I want to read, and as such I am a male reader that loves Chick Lit/Women's Fiction and so am fully behind #ReviewWomen2015 and think it's great.

Review: So to the book then and it's one that I am finding very difficult to discuss. I read just one review of this book before starting it because I think you need to go into it without having the opinions of others in the back of your mind, as I find that can often influence how I feel about a book. I did want to form my own opinion with this, and it's a book that will effect people in various ways depending on where they are in life, whether they themselves are married or have children, and how we have all experienced death in our lives. Ultimately though I would hope most of us take from the book the same message and we will all value and appreciate our loved ones so much more after finishing this book.

The idea behind the book is interesting, if a little confusing in the beginning when we are introduced to Rachel, who is dead, and almost stuck in limbo in this white space that every so often opens to allow her to follow the lives of her husband Max and daughter Ellie but there's no real explanation as to where she is or why. Rachel cannot see everything that Max and Ellie are doing, but is mostly given access to those moments that will provoke the biggest reaction in her, the ones that will anger her, break her heart, torture her, and remind her of the love she has for her family and what she has lost and as the book is split into sections titled in order of the stages of grief, it does work quite well even if it is a little formulaic.

I actually found it a little uncomfortable reading it in the beginning and have to say that if I'd experienced the loss of a parent I probably wouldn't have read on. My mum was pretty open about death from a young age, never sugarcoating anything the way some parents can but I have always had the belief that something about a person remains behind when they die, and the idea of someone you love watching over you in this way, and having feelings of resentfulness and jealousy is quite difficult to think about. We all want that comfort to grasp onto when somebody we love dies. I have to say though that despite these thoughts I was compelled to read on, almost like Rachel, I didn't want to look away and as my thoughts and emotions jumped all over the place as I read, that compulsion didn't leave me until I reached the final page.

I have to be honest and say that for the first half of the book I didn't like Rachel much. I did find her selfish with some of the things she was thinking but then I began to understand her by putting myself in that situation. It's easy to say to a loved one whilst alive that you would want them to find happiness again if you died, but another thing entirely to then find yourself dead and forced to watch that start to happen. I felt at times that Rachel's reactions towards what Max was doing were almost how she would react if he was cheating on her or if she was alive and it took her a while to see things as, well, a dead woman. Max had no idea his dead wife was watching what he was doing. I often find myself over thinking books and it'd be interesting to see how Rachel would have acted as the widow. It was only as the book progressed, and Rachel started going through the various stages of grief that I completely and utterly felt for her, my heart ached and I had a permanent lump in my throat for near enough the remainder of the book. Also I actually think my thoughts would be pretty much the same as Rachel's had I been in this situation. I'd probably liken it to waking up during surgery but being unable to move or communicate to tell the surgeon you can feel the pain. Rachel was unable to reach out and communicate with Max and Ellie and that was awful.

The story is very much about Rachel's acceptance of death, and how she must embrace it and come to terms with the fact that her family will move on and live their lives without her and it was probably her thinking back over her favourite memories as she does this that was a highlight for me because in amongst everything that's going on there are some beautiful moments and also some funny moments, at times Rachel makes some amusingly realistic comments about Max's attempts at moving on, which does add some lighter moments to what can be a rather draining read. Rachel and Max's daughter, Ellie, was a standout character for me and her relationship with her father was just a joy to read. Losing a parent at any age is horrible but for a young child it's incomprehensible and I completely felt for Ellie, who asks some difficult questions in that way only a child can do and at times I really felt her grief. Max and Ellie have each other whereas Rachel is stuck, alone, I had to read this book in just two sittings, I needed that break in between but could not have stopped reading this book overnight as I would have been wide awake thinking about it. It is fairly obvious where the book will eventually lead and I needed to get to that conclusion, to the acceptance stage, but there's also something comforting about that as well as we go on this journey with the characters. This is a remarkable book, one that as I said will provoke different reactions from different people, and one that I could discuss for hours. Hannah Beckerman clearly has massive talent and I for one can't wait to read more from her (though I believe a new book is very far off).

Having finished my review I have read some from my fellow bloggers, here's some of my favourites: Erin's Choice, Leah Loves, I Heart... Chick Lit and This Chick Reads.


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