JP Delaney’s novel The Perfect Wife is an unnerving, skewed story of grief, our obsession with perfection and that with work, AI and our digital footprints, relationship double standards, and conflicting child-rearing approaches.
Abbie wakes in a hospital bed with no memory of how she got there. The man by her side explains that he’s her husband. He’s a titan of the tech world, the founder of one of Silicon Valley’s most innovative startups. He tells Abbie she’s a gifted artist, a doting mother to their young son, and the perfect wife.
Five years ago, she suffered a terrible accident. Her return from the abyss is a miracle of science, a breakthrough in artificial intelligence that has taken him half a decade to achieve.
But as Abbie pieces together memories of her marriage, she begins questioning her husband’s motives – and his version of events. Can she trust him when he says he wants them to be together for ever? And what really happened to her, half a decade ago?
JP Delaney takes us to Silicon Valley in his latest novel and where better to explore the line between what’s human and what machines are capable of, where machine learning can help improve our understanding of ourselves and where it falls short. It’s the perfect technology sandbox for a writer who is adept at exposing what lies behind the perfect facades we think we see, and for delving into the darkest corners of our minds and behaviour.
JP Delaney shows us how quickly lines (and boundaries) can blur and where difficulties in not only navigating, but also in regulating the use of AI and controlling our social media footprint may lie. He highlights how blinkered grief, work and obsession can make us, how dangerous they can be when they run (almost) unchecked. He also pits two parents against each other, each with a differing view on how to raise their autistic child and some scenes dealing with controversial teaching methods made for especially uncomfortable reading, which I’ve no doubt was intended.
I always feel a creeping feeling of unease while reading JP Delaney’s books and that’s strangely heightened here. Abbie’s confusion surrounding her accident, the gaps in her memory, and the troubling feelings she has – for her husband, son and her sister, in particular – all contribute. I couldn’t help but feel a real sense of the jeopardy she is in and rail against the unfairness of her situation, while also finding it odd to feel so strongly about her.
If you’ve read any JP Delaney books, you’ll know that The Perfect Wife here is a misnomer; in reality, she’s as flawed as any other construct or human counterpart. But that does mean she’s also capable of surprising us and it’s this which lends the ending its humanity and hope for the future, whether of AI or humans is for you to decide. It’s another excellent, twisted, thought-provoking thriller from its author.
The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney is published by Quercus Books, part of the Hachette Group. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback, with the paperback out next year. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive instead, where purchases help support your local independent bookshop.
My thanks to the publishers for sending me a review copy.