Book Review: Exhibit Alexandra / His Perfect Wife by Natasha Bell
I am cheating ever so slightly with the book for X in the A to Z Challenge by choosing Exhibit Alexandra which came out in paperback last month retitled His Perfect Wife.
Alexandra Southwood has vanished. Her husband, Marc, is beside himself. It isn’t long before the police are searching for a body.
But Alexandra is alive – trapped, far away from her husband and young daughters.
Desperate, Marc will stop at nothing to find the woman he loves. Even if it means discovering that he never really knew her at all.
Because Alexandra is no ordinary missing person – but then neither is she quite a perfect wife . . .
If you’re looking for a thriller with a difference, one that raises so many questions, making it ripe for discussion, then it’s worth taking a punt on His Perfect Wife.
I really admire Natasha Bell for approaching the story in the way she does. It’s not easy to maintain the mystery, especially when the missing woman is our narrator. Thankfully, we know early on that this is not one of those stories narrated by a dead woman. Alexandra is very much alive. But while she has access to some information, such as the recording of her husband reporting her missing, she can’t know how everything plays out at home.
Instead, Alexandra gives us her re-imagining of what happens and how people behave because she believes that she knows her family and friends well enough to do this. I found it fascinating that she would think this, and arrogant of her. I mean, even when you know someone intimately, can you ever predict their reaction or behaviour in response to a shocking event like this? I’m not convinced you can.
That said, it becomes all too easy to take Alexandra’s version of events as what might have happened while she’s missing. She makes it sound credible. Not that she isn’t challenged by her captor, she is; he does call her on some of her interpretations. But I have to confess to being distracted by trying to work out where she was and who was holding her. Which when revealed, only further jolted my perspective.
His Perfect Wife is a novel all about perspective, whether it be the moral stance we take or when considering identity. Alexandra’s disappearance and the police questioning force Marc to look more closely at his marriage. By sharing flashbacks to when they met and earlier stages in their relationship, Alexandra gives us what looks to be a more rounded view of their marriage. We see what she gave up to be with him and how different her life in York is from that earlier, freer and more creative life in the States.
To help shape our perspective, Natasha Bell includes a series of letters in the novel from Amelia Heldt, Alexandra’s former roommate in the States from when she was studying on an MFA programme. These talk about the art installations and performance art she’s interested in creating, where we see how she wants to push the boundaries between art and everyday life, together with what’s piqued her interest in New York or in Alexandra’s life. In addition to this, we also have Alexandra’s own draft paper on a theory surrounding Tony Soprano from the hit show The Sopranos which indicates where her thinking on this lies.
The letters offer up another side to Alexandra’s life and the concerns or preoccupations she’d share with a friend, but not her husband. Again, it challenges how well she knows him, when it looks as if she kept these thoughts from Marc yet shared them with someone other than him. They did also help point me in the direction His Perfect Wife was leading. I don’t see it as a bad thing that I worked out what was going on before it’s finally revealed. I could feel yet more questions firing off in my head and kept reading in order to see how it would all play out in the end.
His Perfect Wife aka Exhibit Alexandra is a refreshingly different and thought-provoking thriller. I’d recommend giving it a go, and then let’s go to some cafe in a gallery and talk about it!
His Perfect Wife by Natasha Bell is published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books UK. It is available as an audiobook, ebook, in hardback (where it was published as Exhibit Alexandra) or in paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. For more on the author, check out her Author Website, or visit her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.