Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wife in the North by Judith O'Reilly

Judith O'Reilly is very funny and insightful, and I was very excited to read this book. The premise sounded fantastic (city woman moves to Northumberland to fulfill her husband's dream), and I think I laughed out loud half a dozen times in the first couple dozen pages. The very first paragraph holds such promise. Wondering whether she could kill her husband and plead insanity, she concludes, "In truth, the only abuse I have ever suffered is his music collection and the fact he can only cook two meals--fish pasta and bacon and leek pasta. I am not sure that would be considered adequate grounds for murder. Particularly if the jury insisted on sampling them because they are really rather nice." The book is written in short diary entries, beginning with the family's move to the middle of nowhere with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and seven-months-pregnant Judith convinced to try out country living.

There were lovely, poignant passages and very funny passages, and Judith really nails the highs and lows of being a parent. But after about 100 pages, it started to be a hard slog to keep going. I realized it was the short entries, lack of cohesion, and my inability to connect with other characters. Basically, the problem is that, though this is categorized as a memoir, it is actually a collection of blog entries. "Memoir" implies reflecting on one's past in a meaningful way, while this is like reading someone's summarized daily thoughts, which is good in small doses, but, like life, is repetitive, disjointed, and lacking a central story to move things along. I hadn't realized this was a blog-to-book, or I doubt I would have picked it up. The really frustrating thing is that I would have loved to read a real memoir by Judith. She's an excellent writer, really witty and sharp, and her insights are funny and moving.

I had difficulty identifying with anyone but Judith because she's given them all cutesy blog names to shield their identities (Yorkshire Mother, Oyster Farmer's Wife, Best Friend From School--even the kids start out as the four-year-old and two-year-old, progressing as needed to five-year-old and three-year-old, etc. The baby stays the baby) and their characters are not really developed. Her husband is a mystery to me. He drags the whole family up there, but continues to work in London, leaving Judith alone with the kids for three weeks at a time? I could not understand his motivation, or her capitulation, in light of those circumstances, and this was a real problem. When he gives her an out partway through, I could not identify with her not taking it after reading about her misery up to that point. As expected with a blog, there is a fair amount of self-indulgence and whining (yes, you miss London--I get it), but the lack of cohesion is really the biggest problem with this book. Is this what publishers are doing these days? Finding someone with an entertaining blog and reprinting entries so people will pay for what they can read for free? Count me out.

Save a tree. Save $14.95. Go read her blog at


Holly said...

Oh the premise of this sounds good! I will have to check out her blog. I think the blog-to-book scenario is happening quite a bit these days. Publishers discover a gem of a blog with a following (oooh, built-in fans!) and want to capitalize on the success.

allisonmariecat said...

I guess I see the appeal from the publisher's point-of-view, as far as a built-in audience goes. I was just soooooo disappointed because I would have loved a real memoir by this author, and she's a really good writer--she could have pulled it off. If you love the blog, you might want to pick up the book (or I'll send you mine!) because the book starts August 2005, when they move, and the blog appears to start November 2006. Maybe the publishers had her take part of it down? Anyway, as a blog, in small doses, it would be really fun :)