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THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE
by Thomas Christopher Greene
Thomas Dunne, February 2014
288 pages
$24.99
ISBN: 1250038944


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

At the start of THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE, the headmaster of a prestigious boarding school is found wandering naked through Central Park. He is picked up by police and questioned, and the first half of the book is his first-person narrative of how he came to be in that position. At the end of that narrative, there is a big surprise, and then the second half of the book is told from the perspective of his wife. A summary of the book is difficult to write without giving away the twist, so suffice it to say that the book is about the clash between the privileged and those who are allowed to enter that world but remain outsiders. Arthur Winthrop, the headmaster of the title, is the second-generation headmaster of Lancaster School, and he met his wife, Elizabeth, when she came to St. Andrew's as a scholarship student in his class. As Elizabeth says, they are both broken people, but perhaps if they don't break at the same time they can help each other live full lives.

The first half of the book was difficult to get through, since Arthur portrays himself as a despicable man. Reading the story of his obsessive relationship with a student during which he takes advantage of the power of his office is tough going. It's very hard to read a book that is so centered on such an unlikeable man, and there were times when I just wanted to set the book down not to be picked up again. However, I am glad I continued through the twist, when all of a sudden Arthur is seen in a different light. The second half of the book, which goes back through many of the events relayed during the first half but from a very different perspective, helps the reader understand the struggles that both Arthur and Elizabeth have encountered and how those trials have shaped their lives and personalities.

THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE is a novel of psychological suspense asking the question, "How did these people get to this point?" It also is a love story, a thoughtful analysis of how a tragedy can affect different people, a treatise on how memory can become twisted by stress, and an atmospheric description of an elite private boarding school. While a reader expecting a traditional mystery will be disappointed in that regard, the book's strengths in character development and in creating atmosphere and setting will compensate.

It was impossible for me to read this book without providing my own layers of memory to the experience. Arthur and Elizabeth are high school students at exactly the point in time when I was, and as adults they were affected by the same world events (e.g., the September 11 World Trade Center tragedy) as I have been. The social changes that took place during the late sixties and early seventies are those that helped form the adults that Arthur and Elizabeth became, and Greene does an exceptionally subtle job of illuminating those changes. The couple lives in the cloistered world of a traditional private school, as I did for many years. Based on my own experiences, I can confirm that Greene does a terrific job in THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE of bringing the times and locations to life. Anyone who has lived through the time period from the 60s to the present will find his or her own memories resurfacing while reading about how time and stress have muddled Arthur's memory. Greene is able to present the complexity of Arthur's and Elizabeth's stories without confusing the reader. In the end, he sheds a light on the ways in which Arthur's and Elizabeth's experiences, combined with their personalities, led to Arthur wandering nude through Central Park.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, January 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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