Review: Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater

Title: Gulliver’s Wife

Author: Lauren Chater

Published: April 1st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Gulliver’s Wife is an inventive tale that imagines the life of Mary Gulliver, the wife of Lemuel Gulliver whose fictional adventures are authored by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.

Lauren Chater opens her story in London during the year of 1702. With her husband lost at sea and declared deceased, Mary Gulliver has fought hard to keep body and soul together. Left with crippling debts run up by her feckless husband and two young children to raise, it has taken her three years of hard work as a midwife in Wapping to rescue her family from penury, but all that is cruelly jeopardised when her husband unexpectedly returns. Clearly ill, restless and raving about little people, Mary can only hope that when her husband recovers his health, he will be a better man than the one who left. But it soon becomes clear that Lemuel has bought nothing but trouble home with him.

“Only yesterday she was a widow of independent means. Now she is some monstrous hybrid, a creature who has tasted freedom and knows too well how things might be otherwise.”

Life three centuries ago was challenging for women, and in Gulliver’s Wife, Chater explores the myriad of ways in women‘s agency was curtailed by men. As a wife Mary is beholden to her husband and his selfish and abusive treatment, but as a widow Mary had discovered a modicum of independence. Luckier than most, her work as a midwife provides her with respectability and income, but Mary is still at the mercy of men – to permit her to ply her trade, to educate her son, even to see her home safely at night. With her husband’s return, Mary is powerless as his behaviour threatens to destroy her reputation, their tenuous financial stability, and even their daughter’s future.

Mary attempts to hide the worst of her husband’s behaviour from their daughter Bess, a headstrong, naive girl who was crushed by her adored father’s reported death, and is thrilled by his return. Bess compares her mother’s ordered life unfavourably to her father’s adventures, failing to understand the realities of a woman’s lot in the early 18th century. Chater’s exploration of the fraught relationship between mother and daughter, as Bess rebels and Mary tries to protect her without wholly disillusioning her, is relatable even now.

The risks Bess take are even more frightening for Mary as a violent, serial rapist is stalking the lanes of Wapping, illustrating yet another way in which men assert control over women, as it is the women who are forced to change their behaviour to accomodate the rapist, and his victims who are ruined in men’s eyes.

All this oppression tends to make Gulliver’s Wife a rather bleak read, though it does end with a note of hope.

Rich in historical detail, offering vivid description, and complex characterisation, Gulliver’s Wife is an engrossing, literary read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bookshelflife
    Apr 08, 2020 @ 23:44:32

    Gulliver’s Travels were one of my favourite stories when I was younger.. I definitely need to check this one out …. this sounds like such a powerful read

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. Jennifer
    Apr 09, 2020 @ 10:30:11

    Great review. I have a copy on my Kindle to read … soonish 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Marg
    Apr 09, 2020 @ 19:44:24

    It sounds like a really interesting premise. Maybe for later. At the moment I am all about light reads.

    Like

    Reply

  4. allthebookblognamesaretaken
    Apr 12, 2020 @ 04:38:09

    I am intrigued by this premise. I read Gulliver’s travels so long ago when I was younger, I can hardly remember much of it now. Perhaps I will read them together in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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