“Sounds like you had the true fairy tale.”
Alexandra and Marc Southwood have everything. A beautiful home in York, England, comfortable jobs, two children and a neat handful of married friends. That is, until Alexandra fails to show up to work one morning and becomes the missing piece that makes this perfect suburban puzzle fall apart.
Previously published as Exhibit Alexandra, Natasha Bell’s debut novel His Perfect Wife is much more complex than the new title initially suggests. The novel displays all the hallmarks of a classic mystery thriller, complete with a beautiful missing wife, heartbroken and ruggedly determined spouse and no shortage of time jumps and flashbacks throughout a gripping search. What makes it much more than that, however, is the question of identity. The familiar themes and confrontational feminism of Gone Girl become not a question of who Alexandra really is, but who indeed are we?
“Marc had no idea when he woke how much the day ahead would break him.”
A key piece of Bell’s intriguing design is that Alexandra narrates her own search. She imagines her husband’s grief and reactions to the police search from a mysterious dark cell. What is real and what is not is a question for both the characters and the reader, with each gut-wrenching chapter appearing both suspiciously constructed yet viscerally real at the same time. At times confusing and at others fascinating, each chapter alternates between their past, their present and letters from Alexandra’s elusive university friend, Amelia Heldt. Seemingly a distraction at first, Amelia’s letters complicate this tragic tale with her high-flying success as a New York-based artist sitting in stark contrast to Alexandra’s family life.
Within these stories within a story, it becomes more and more apparent to Marc alongside the reader that Alexandra is (or was?) unsure about the quiet life she had curated and frustrated that she could no longer be the artist she had been while studying in America. This notion of sacrifice and its cost as part of the female experience is an all too familiar feeling for most, or at best a familiar fear. Natasha Bell explores the complexities of this experience through Marc’s grim revelation he may not have known Alexandra as well as he thought, and Amelia’s brash rejection of motherhood and its trappings. To what extent do people, women in particular, create their own prisons, and to what extent are these prisons created for us?
“What happens after this honeymoon period is over, when the artist inside you starts to hack her way out?”
His Perfect Wife makes us confront the uncomfortable space in between our constructed lives and inner selves. The true terror in Bell’s thriller isn’t the story itself, but rather its ability to highlight our own quiet dissatisfaction, regrets and fear of wasted potential. Whether you are new to the genre or hungry for more twists and turns, Bell’s novel offers a refreshing tale that is as shocking as it is morally dubious. If life is said to imitate art, His Perfect Wife explores what happens when the two become utterly indistinguishable.
His Perfect Wife is now available in the UK. Find more details and buying options here.