The Guilty Wife: A Book Damned to Mediocrity & Cheap Thrills

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I have a code when it comes to reading: If you pick up a book, finish it at all costs. It doesn’t matter whether you like the book or not; if you’ve turned the first page, you’ve got to see it through to the end. It’s a commitment that you’ve made and now, you’ve got to honour it. Yeah, I know it’s silly, but if you’re a reader, you’ll probably understand what I am saying.

In following this code, there have been many books that have tested my patience. Some dragged on, others were excruciatingly painful and then there were those that were downright awful. In each case, I would put the book down, get a bit of fresh air, maybe see other books for a change, take them out for drinks, have a one night stand (read: binge-reading session) with them before dutifully returning to the original book that was giving me grief. But in the end, I was able to turn the last page, breathe a sigh of relief, and banish my torturer knowing that the worst was over and I could turn to another book that would (hopefully) bring me comfort.

In all my years of reading, no book has ever made me reconsider my code. And no other book has tried my patience as hard as The Guilty Wife. The storyline is flimsy and predictable – a combination that dooms it right from the start. A wife who cheats on her husband and gets embroiled in her lover’s death as the major suspect, even though she’s innocent? I could have written this plot (or even a better one) while I was sleeping and my consciousness was out astral projecting!

Then we have this protagonist – Bethany. Oh God! Does she wallow in self-pity or what? She’s the one who’s stepping out on her marriage and she ends up feeling bad for herself. It’s just page after page of “Oh God! what have I done?” and “Oh God! What am I doing?” and “Oh God! Why is this happening to me?” and “Oh God! I have it so bad.” etc. etc. etc. Yawn!

As a rule, I don’t like whiny, weepy characters but what really frustrated me about Bethany is that no only does she moan throughout the book, she actually believed she had the right to do so. That’s like a double-whammy of pathetic weakness that I couldn’t stomach.

What else was ridiculous about this book? The 2D cut out characters or the fact that you forgot about them the moment you put the book down? Both. The novella-length storyline that was stretched into a full-fledged, extremely wishy-washy novel that dragged readers along for 309 pages? Yep, definitely that. The overzealous attempt to create an atmospheric sense of drama and mystery? Oh yes, yes. But I think what really got to me was the singular lack of thrill in the story.

I could have ignored the threadbare storyline or uninspiring characters if the writer had bothered to put some thought into making this thriller … well, thrilling! How can you go wrong when you’re dealing with cheating, betrayal, murder, blackmail, stalking, and deception? Elle Croft, the writer, shows you that it is, in fact possible.

There’s none of the suspense you’d associate with a murder mystery. I’ve read penny dreadfuls being sold in seedy shops that were more intriguing. The protagonist’s amateurish attempts at trying to solve the murder on her own are laughable. And you, as a reader, desperately feel like taking her by the shoulders, shaking her vigorously, and slapping the stupidity out of her.

The writer also fails to convey the fear of a woman being stalked, blackmailed, and framed for the murder. There’s just no crippling sense of fear or dread that you’d associate with a situation like this. You read everything that’s happening to her, but you’re quite unmoved. Even when she gets thrown in jail, you feel absolutely nothing. In fact, because of how insipid Bethany is as a character, I was quite enjoying the idea of her being miserable. Serves her right for drawing me into the muck of self-pity she’s wading in.

And then, there’s the ‘final twist’ that the book is banking on; the deceit and duplicity it advertises on it’s front cover. It’s about as shocking as discovering that your uncle was wearing a toupee and his gorgeous curls weren’t natural after all. A classic case of the-person-you-least-suspect-of-the-crime-is-the-criminal, the ‘mindblowing’ reveal of who the killer actually is can be seen from miles away. And you can also tell that this ‘reveal’ has been stitched together for the benefit of audiences who love a cheap thrill because it makes no logical sense at all. But we’ve already established that logic wasn’t high on the writer’s priorities when writing this novel.

Like I mentioned before, this book sorely tested my patience. After plodding through the first 200 pages in abject misery, I got through the last 100 in 5 minutes! Not because I was trying to rush through the book (that was the additional advantage, though) but because there wasn’t anything substantial in those pages to keep me hooked.

Perhaps the only good thing that’s come out of reading The Guilty Wife is this blog. My site has been inactive since April last year, but this book shook me out of my stupor and forced me to write about my traumatic experiences.

So, all’s well that ends well? The book certainly doesn’t end well, but if it got me to write again, I owe it something, right? Damn! I’ve got to find a more constructive source of inspiration for myself.

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