‘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.
In The Dead Wife’s Handbook we meet Rachel, a thirty-six year old mother and wife who dies suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart problem. However, Rachel doesn’t find herself in Heaven but stuck in a strange in-between afterlife of nothingness. Interspersed with the emptiness of this world Rachel is transported to witness moments of significance in the lives of those left behind. She witnesses her daughter, Ellie and husband Max’s struggle to cope with the absence of Rachel in their lives. The Birthdays, Anniversaries, Sports Days…and then, disconcertingly she begins to witness Max and Ellie’s encouraged attempts to move on with their lives as time passes.
She is shocked to witnesses her best friend, Harriet, and Max’s brother, Connor, encouraging him to meet new people and re-ignite his social life. As the months pass Rachel then see’s Max attempting to go on dates and move forward with his life. But nothing will come of this, surely…After all he’s still married to Rachel, there’s no way Max would even consider starting a new relationship. Because if Max gets a new girlfriend, it’s not just Rachel’s status as a wife that will be replaced, it’s her position of mother, daughter, best friend, and daughter-in-law that will be reclaimed too. It would be as though she never existed…
They say honesty is the best policy, so here we go… Without a doubt, this if one of my favourite books of 2014 so far and I am terrified about writing this review because I so badly want to do this astounding book justice. It’s no exaggeration to say it is absolutely-FANTASTIC.
Firstly, the concept of the story is completely unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It is such a fantastic idea and fascinating basis for a story. I mean – just imagine if you were Rachel and you could see your family and friends after you were no longer in their lives anymore? How would you feel? Of course you’d want them to be happy but, like Rachel, you would desperately want to remain a part of their lives forever and be reassured that you’ll never be forgotten.
The Dead Wife’s Handbook explores grief and how it affects people differently. There are different parts of the story, each one a common stage of grief e.g. Shock, Denial, Anger and it’s amazing how not only the people left behind experience these emotions, but Rachel herself too.
I had a difficult time deciding whether Rachel’s ‘gift’ of being able to see Max and Ellie after her death was a good thing or actually a bad thing. On the one hand you’ve got the fact that she gets to still see her husband and daughter and witness sports days, birthdays, parties and important occasions, but then she also sees the side of her absence that she doesn’t want to bear witness to such as Max and Ellie being upset, mourning for Rachel and then Max moving on with his life, dating other people – people who are also involved in Ellie’s life. She witnesses the conflict, hurt and grief that she’s left behind as her loved ones adapt to her absence.
However, after the outcome of the story I decided that Rachel’s experience was definitely a good thing as she comes round to realising that it’s not about the things that she never achieved in life, or the impacts she did or didn’t make – but how there are fragments of her left behind in this world in the most unexpected of places. Things such as the way Ellie flaps her hands in the same way Rachel did, the fact that she taught Max how to love a woman and gave him the opportunity to become a father.
Soon Rachel learns that it’s not about the things she hasn’t accomplished, but her imprint on the people that she’s left behind. Things which will get passed down from generation to generation, meaning that although she may have died prematurely, there will be small parts of Rachel living on in this world for a long, long time to come.
I rarely re-read books, but The Dead Wife’s Handbook is an exception to my rule. As I read it for a second time I noticed so many things that I had missed first time round and really appreciated the novel all the more for it.
There’s a brilliant cast of characters, all bringing their own unique interpretation of how Rachel’s death will affect their lives. On a lighter note, I really enjoyed the burgeoning relationship between Harriet and Connor and I really want to find out what happens between them…
The fact that this is Hannah Beckerman’s DEBUT novel is mind boggling. It’s emotional, it will break your heart and it will make you question your own thoughts and morals. It’s just a beautiful story, catapulting Hannah into my list of Favourite Authors. Her writing is so accomplished and touching. You simply can’t help but get immersed in this story and you will be thinking about The Dead Wife’s Handbook LONG after you’ve read the last, perfect page.
This is the first book I am awarding a sparkly shoe review, meaning it gets pride of place over on my Favourites page. Yes, THAT is how much I loved it.
*This was my own personal copy of The Dead Wife’s Handbook
Hannah Beckerman is an author and journalist. Her debut novel, The Dead Wife’s Handbook, is published by Penguin. Visit her website to find out more about the extremely talented lady HERE
You can follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahbeckerman