Paperback, 477 pages.
Release date: February13th 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for 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.
Hannah Beckerman gives an unforgettable exploration of love and loss in her first novel, The Dead Wife's Handbook.
Thirty-something Rachel’s life was perfect. A good job and a happy home with her wonderful husband and beautiful daughter, she had it all. And then, suddenly Rachel died.
The Dead Wife’s Handbook, Hannah Beckerman’s debut, narrates Rachel’s life from beyond the grave as she dips in and out of the lives of the family and friends she has left behind; seeing them move on with their lives and loves while she is stuck in a hazy afterlife while she processes her own grief for the life she to which she never got to say goodbye. Though the subject matter of The Dead Wife’s Handbook could easily verge on bleak, even depressing, it never does. Instead, Rachel’s story is one beautifully told with dashes of wit to lighten the load
We catch up with Rachel, her husband Max and her seven-year-old daughter Ellie on the first anniversary of her death. Max is still lost in his grief, Ellie too, and yet, it is around this time that friends and family start suggesting that Max should start moving on with his life. Rachel’s best friend Harriet even suggests that Max should try internet dating. Rachel doesn’t know what on earth Harriet is thinking, and she’s thankful that Max balks at the idea too. After all, it’s much too soon for him to even think about dating someone new. As far as Rachel’s concerned if Max never dated again, it would too soon. But she knows she can trust Max to respect her memory. And she knows Max. She knows that it’s far too soon for him to start dating again.
Or is it?
The next time Rachel happens upon Max from her cloudy afterlife, he’s sitting in a bar. And he’s waiting for a woman. The date, with a dour vet called Dodie, doesn’t go well, but Rachel is appalled that Max ever considered such a thing. I mean, she’s only been dead just over a year. Is she so easily replaceable?
Things are about to get far worse for Rachel. When, a little later, she happens on Max in a restaurant he’s on another date. And this date isn’t awkward. This date is no dour Dodie. This date is Eve. This is the first of many dates with Eve. This is the beginning of something new for Max; something good. And it’s also the first time that Rachel has to witness her husband kiss another woman.
Can Rachel be happy that Max has found someone new? Someone who will love and cherish the family she left behind. Or will her afterlife forever be tinged with bitterness and regret? As Rachel moves through the stages of grief from shock to denial to depression, will she ever reach acceptance?
The Dead Wife’s Handbook will evoke emotions and provoke strong reactions, and it will be interesting to see from different readers what those reactions are. For me, though Rachel is dead, I was on her side from the start. I too thought it too soon for Max to start dating. I mean, a year, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing. Here, though, we’re mostly getting Rachel’s point of view. I had to stop, take a second, and put myself in Max’s shoes: he lost his wife in the blink of an eye; so now, he most probably feels like life is for the taking, not for the wasting. Still, Max is not perfect. He does his best, but he makes mistakes, and when embarking on his new relationship with Eve, he makes certain decisions that even surprise Rachel, the woman who thought she knew him best. Not to worry though, Max has Ellie to keep him in check.
Ah, Ellie. Welcoming another woman into the life that she still sees as her mother’s is not on the cards for Ellie. This little girl clings steadfastly to her mother’s memory. Mature beyond her years and with more memories of her mum than I thought possible for one so young, it is Ellie who questions everything, who keeps her mum’s spirit alive, whose love for her mum is evident in every heart beat, on every page.
It is Ellie who will make your heart crack, in the end.
The Dead Wife’s Handbook is a touching tale of love, loss and learning to love again. It teaches a lesson too in the art of letting go, moving on, and being thankful for what you have in this life.