Title: The Headmaster’s Wife
Author: Thomas Christopher Greene
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Arthur Winthrop is the headmaster of Lancaster School, an elite boarding school for high school students. He’s settled into the role like his father before him, but lately something’s been different; he’s more restless than he used to be, and he and his wife are barely speaking. One of the young women in the class he teaches, a scholarship student by the name of Betsy Pappas, catches his eye and leads Arthur on a downward spiral from which there may be no redemption.
The Headmaster’s Wife is an unexpected novel, given the initial direction of the plot. It’s a meditation on grief and loss, while simultaneously managing to be a gripping mystery novel that will keep readers turning page after page.
The Headmaster’s Wife is a masterfully written novel about the ravages of grief and the toll it can take on your life. For the first half of the novel, as Arthur pursues young Betsy with increasingly reckless abandon, it’s hard not to feel anything but contempt and disgust. “Creepy old man” were the words that kept running through my head, and I was more and more appalled with every turn of events. But I had the niggling feeling that there was something more going on, that things weren’t quite what they seemed. About halfway through the novel, readers learn what is really happening and everything clicks into place.
Discussing and reviewing The Headmaster’s Wife without talking about what is really going on is difficult, to say the least. At the same time, though, it’s best to know as little as possible going into this book to truly appreciate it, so I’ll do my best to muddle through without giving anything more away than I already have. Arthur is a difficult character, to say the least. He’s not necessarily a good person and he’s made a lot of mistakes. And for the first half of the novel, he’s so distasteful that he makes the reader want to stop reading. But there is something sweet about him, still. It’s difficult to hate him, especially after all becomes clear. Greene did a great job writing a complex individual who makes the reader work in order to get to know him.
Though The Headmaster’s Wife is a meditation on grief, it’s also a gripping story. There are plenty of mysteries presented within its pages, and Greene’s easy writing style makes the book easy to read. As a result, this is a novel that it’s easy to fly through in one sitting. It’s worth taking the time to savor it, though, to really understand what these characters are going through and appreciate what Greene is trying to say about those inescapable feelings of loss and how they can destroy you.
With many different elements, The Headmaster’s Wife will easily appeal to a wide variety of readers. It’s got great atmosphere, and the academic setting is a romantic one. This is a novel you should absolutely pick up; Greene manages to surprise the reader with every twist and turn, and that reveal halfway through the novel will shatter every preconception the reader has, turning the book into something entirely new.