Book Review

Mrs March by Virginia Feito

George March’s latest novel is a smash hit. None could be prouder than Mrs. March, his dutiful wife, who revels in his accolades and relishes the lifestyle and status his success brings.

A creature of routine and decorum, Mrs. March lives an exquisitely controlled existence on the Upper East Side. Every morning begins the same way, with a visit to her favourite patisserie to buy a loaf of olive bread, but her latest trip proves to be her last when she suffers an indignity from which she may never recover: an assumption by the shopkeeper that the protagonist in George March’s new book – a pathetic sex worker, more a figure of derision than desire – is based on Mrs. March.

One casual remark robs Mrs. March not only of her beloved olive bread but of the belief that she knew everything about her husband – and herself – sending her on an increasingly paranoid journey, one that starts within the pages of a book but may very well uncover both a killer and the long-buried secrets of Mrs. March’s past.

A razor-sharp exploration of the fragility of identity and the smothering weight of expectations, Mrs. March heralds the arrival of a wicked and wonderful new voice.

Mrs March is a novel that I had my eye on when it was first published last year, but it’s one that I didn’t quite get around to at the time.  I bought it on something of a whim last month, and I’m so glad I did.  I knew as soon as I started it that I was in for a treat, and it absolutely lived up to those early expectations.

a whore no one wants to sleep with

From the beginning of the novel, the reader understands that Mrs March is an extremely proud woman, and so the idea that her husband, George, has based the protagonist of his latest novel on her comes as something of a shock.  It’s an unflattering comparison however you look at it, but while many might just brush it off, Mrs March takes it to heart.  It’s a wonderfully simple premise and Feito executes this idea brilliantly as Mrs March finds supporting evidence for this claim, as George comments that Mrs March is always a source of inspiration, for instance.  It’s confirmation bias, but it fuels Mrs March’s growing paranoia that she – through no fault of her own – has become an object of derision. 

Mrs March is an interesting if not entirely likeable character.  She affects a persona of being very prim and proper, and her primary concern seems to be how she is perceived by others, even complete strangers.  She over-analyses every single encounter – however brief – wondering if she said or did the right thing, or if she came across as intended.  It’s therefore understandable that her reaction to this comment – made almost in passing – is taken to heart, even if the reader believes that she’s taking it too seriously.  It’s exacerbated by the belief that everyone knows that the character is based upon her, adding to her humiliation, and this comes to dominate every thought and action that she undertakes throughout the rest of the novel. 

Her descent into this extreme paranoia is very well done, and there’s a persistent, creeping horror to the narrative as she begins to see decay all around her, starting with cockroaches in her spotless apartment, but soon becoming more excessive as her paranoia goes unchecked.  If you’re wondering why she doesn’t just challenge her husband about this character and the inspiration behind her, she does.  But she doesn’t believe his answer, believing that he’s just trying to placate her while still laughing at her with his friends who must surely be in on the secret.  It’s a brilliantly creepy novel that feels the reader with dread, wondering how far it will go. 

I find it fascinating that Mrs March is exactly that throughout the entirety of the novel – it’s not until the very last page that we learn her forename.  This may be so that the reader doesn’t become too attached to the character – we’re kept at arm’s length, and can view her actions and behaviour more objectively than for a character who evokes sympathy.  I also think that it represents how Mrs March sees herself.  She is – in her mind – George’s wife.  That is what defines her, and she seems to have no identity of her own outside of that role.  Set in the mid twentieth century (the year and decade aren’t defined, but this feels right for the novel), it highlights the way in which women were viewed, by themselves, in some cases, as much as by the society around them.  Having little of her own outside of her reputation as (she hopes) an elegant and classy woman, this insult – real or perceived – takes on a greater significance.  It’s all she had, and it’s been taken away from her. 

There is also a subplot to the novel about a young woman murdered in Maine.  It’s a story that Mrs March becomes fixated with, particularly as her husband has made frequent trips to Maine with his editor who keeps a hunting lodge there.  It adds to her paranoia as she muses on whether George ever met the young woman, perhaps flirted with her as he signed her book. Could he have been involved, somehow? This adds an interesting note of mystery to the novel as we learn more Sylvia’s demise and as it adds to Mrs March’s increasingly erratic behaviour.  

Mrs March is a fantastic novel.  Part psychological study, part gothic horror, this is an unsettling novel that I didn’t want to put down.  Virginia Feito is an author to watch for sure.

Published by Fourth Estate, Mrs March is available now in paperback, digital, and audio formats.


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