Release: 13th February 2014
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Afterlife, Grief
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
"'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."
There are an abundance of books about fictional afterlives out there and I always really enjoy reading them so when I read the synopsis for The Dead Wife’s Handbook I knew it was a book that I just had to read. When I started reading I was quite surprised to discover that this book is less about the afterlife and more about life itself which put a refreshing new twist on the dead heroine narrative.
The book begins on the one year anniversary of Rachel’s death where we find out that Rachel died unexpectedly in her thirties leaving behind loving husband Max and young daughter Ellie. Rachel isn’t sure where she is or why she’s there but every so often the clouds part and she is allowed to see Max and Ellie begin to build a new life without her.
I say this book is more about life than the afterlife because the focus is never on where Rachel is now. Instead we watch the living through Rachel’s eyes and experience the different stages of grief for everybody who Rachel’s death has affected, including Rachel herself.
A year after his wife’s death Max is gently pushed back into the world of dating by concerned friends and family. Max thinks it’s too soon and his first few dates go horribly wrong, that is until Max meets Eve and beings to fall in love all over again. Rachel is heartbroken watching another woman take her place and so she grieves not only for the life she’s lost but also for the life she’ll now never lead. You see throughout the book how Rachel’s death and Max moving on affects Rachel’s family, friends and young daughter Ellie in different ways showing the messy complexity of grief.
This book brought out a range of emotions in me and my feelings towards each character would shift and develop throughout the book. Sometimes I’d feel so frustrated with Max but then he’d have a heart to heart with Ellie and I’d suddenly understand his feelings. At the start I really didn’t like Eve and was fiercely on Rachel’s side but as I got to know her I warmed to her and began to see that even though she didn’t know Rachel her death has very much affected her life as well.
Overall The Dead Wife’s Handbook is an emotionally powerful debut novel about life, death, love and everything in between. It broke my heart and put it back together again and is a firm favourite of mine for 2014. I’m hugely looking forward to seeing what Hannah Beckerman writes next.