At the request of readers, I discuss the ending of How To Be A Good Wife, and offer you the chance to give Hector his comeuppance…
How To Be A Good Wife has now been out in the world for four months. Reading the reviews and listening to people talk about the book has been so wonderful. Every time I’ve done an event, either in Australia or the UK, people have had such interesting questions about the book. I wanted to thank anyone who came to those events, wrote a review, or shown support for the book. I spent 3 years in a room with Marta, unable to discuss her with anyone apart from my agent and editor, so talking about her is such a delight. I still have to remind myself that she is someone I made up: it’s hard to imagine she’s not out there somewhere, baking bread or cleaning her doll collection!
I think the most commonly asked questions refer to the ending of the novel. Some people want to know what really happened. Who is right: Marta or Hector?
The openness of the ending was very important to me, and it was something I fought to keep during the editing process. Ultimately, I wanted the book to raise more questions than it answered. I wanted the book to linger in the mind, for Marta’s situation to resonate. I wanted the reader to think about the domestic role of women in the past (and sometimes present) and whether it is good for a woman’s psychology.
It is up to the reader to make the decision about Marta’s state of mind: whether these things she sees really happened to her, or whether she is suffering from a mental illness. I wanted the reader to experience the difficulties the psychologists struggle with in diagnosing her. To say either way what actually happened to Marta weakened the overall premise of the book for me, and answered a lot of the questions I wanted to raise in the reader’s minds. If I had said definitively whether Hector had done these terrible things, I would have lost this ambiguity, and for me, that is where the power of the book lies. Marta herself is not even certain: and this for me speaks of the powers of the human mind to cope with certain situations, and raises the question of whether we ever really know ourselves.
But What Do YOU think?
People often ask me who I believe. Honestly, I change my mind about this, and I like that the reader has the space to do that. But, I did a lot of research into Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome and Dissociative Identity Disorder, and until the final draft of the book, I strongly believed that Marta had suffered a severe trauma which had altered her psychology.
While I was rewriting the final draft, I had a revelation which led to Hector’s character being implicated in what has happened to Marta. Previously, he had been the good guy: a husband who had seen her through her difficulties, which had been exacted at the hands of another man. Marta had never told him about her experiences, but she was more aware of them. I read several articles about the repression of memory in severe trauma, and it got me thinking about Marta’s awareness of what had happened to her. I also began thinking about Hector, and thought how interesting it would be if I suggested that he was to blame. This is how the current version of How To Be A Good Wife was born, three years into writing it.
Therefore, throughout most of the process of the writing the book, I believed Marta that something terrible had happened to her, even if she was not conscious of it at the beginning of the book. I will always have that basis of belief in her past, and although I like the idea of Hector being innocent, I will always come down more with Marta.
From talking to readers, this is the most common experience for them too. We are in Marta’s head, so of course we are more likely to side with her, even when she makes us doubt her reliability.
As we headed towards publication, there was a lot of discussion about the end of the book. When I first submitted it, the book ended with Marta left in the initial institution, in a small locked room similar to the one under the house. This ending was too abrupt, and I wanted to find a balance between offering the reader a bit more closure, but not giving too much away about what actually happened.
It was a difficult process: I felt I had put Marta in an impossible position. I felt guilty about that, but every way I turned, it seemed that she wasn’t in control of the situation. I wrote a ‘happy’ ending where Marta is left in the more comfortable facility: she can walk in the sun, Kylan can visit, and she is away from Hector. But I realised that she was still living her life under the control of someone else. Her place at the facility was being paid for by Hector, and she could not go beyond the grounds. As in the valley, she is trapped in many of the same ways. And the ‘memories’, or hallucinations, still haunt her.
So I rewrote the ending again: adding Kylan’s wedding and the final scene. I see it as Marta’s attempt to take back the control which has been taken away from her so many years before. Whether you believe that these things happened to her, or if she has struggled with mental illness, either way, she has not been in control of what happened to her.
I’m sure many people will disagree with me about the ending, and will want vindication for Marta, or punishment for Hector. But to admit that Hector did these things is also defining Marta’s condition. I wanted it to be left ambiguous, for the reader to decide who they believe.
If you are interested in a ‘revenge’-style ending for Marta, or in reading the alternatives I came up with, let me know in the comments below and I’d be happy to publish them on my blog. I’m sure I can come up with a way for Hector to get his comeuppance, if you believe he did anything wrong…