June 30, 2013

The Pilot's Wife - Anita Shreve

Title: The Pilot's Wife
Author: Anita Shreve
Release date: 1999
Pages: 293

*And then she knew. It was in the way he said her name, the fact that he knew her name at all. It was in his eyes, a wary flicker. The quick breath he took.*

A pilot's wife is taught to be prepared for the late-night knock at the door. But when Kathryn Lyons receives word that a plane flown by her husband, Jack, has exploded near the coast of Ireland, she confronts the unfathomable - one startling revelation at a time. Soon drawn into a maelstrom of publicity fueled by rumors that Jack led a secret life, Kathryn sets out to learn who her husband really was, whatever that knowledge might cost.Her search propels this taut, impassioned novel as it movingly explores the question. How well can we ever really know another person?

*But how do you ever know that you know a person?*

The pilot’s wife was my first Anita Shreve novel … and definitely not the last one. What kind of book it is? To be honest, it is hard to define it: a mix of drama, suspense, love and emotions is the best description I can think of.
When Kathryn Lyons is woken up in the middle of the night to be told that her husband died in a plane crash, her life is turned upside down. Especially when she learns by the media that he might have committed suicide and killed all of the passengers and staff present on board with him. With the help of Robert Hart, from the company, she decides to prove everybody that they are wrong and to find out who her husband really was, whatever it will cost her… And as the story unfolds, she realises that she did not actually know him at all.
Anita Shreve’s novel is moving and its organisation successfully organised: one chapter out of two tells about the present and explains how Kathryn deals with the situation. The other chapters tell about the past and recount moments of her life with her husband Jack, from their marriage to the last time she saw him. As a consequence, the reader feels involved in Kathryn’s thoughts and discovers her memories little by little, as they come back to her mind. At the same time, and without the reader noticing it, the author prepares the spectacular end which is about to come. It is only towards the very end, after tension built up in the last chapters, that we fully understand the connection between all the anecdotes – although a basic general knowledge is required to catch all the details.
The psychological aspect of the loss of someone dear and the rebuilding of one’s life after such a disaster is deeply explored, and subtly mixed with Kathryn’s investigation. The relationships between the characters are very interesting, in particular the ones Kathryn has with her daughter, Mattie and with Robert Hart. A fundamental question about relationships is thoroughly explored: how well can we know someone?
There is no definite answer to that question, but several clues are given to the reader to make his own interpretation of the events and of the characters’ future. The pilot’s wife is a very good novel although the story is rather sad. There is the physical disaster – the crash – of course, but several other aspects are explored as well: the psychological disaster caused by the loss of someone dearly loved, the disaster that Kathryn discovers little by little which caused by lies and secrets, the disaster caused by the betrayal of someone important…
It is extremely interesting to see how Kathryn and Mattie go through that ordeal and reach each step of grief. However, the evolution of Jack is interesting as well, as in most books dead characters do not really change. The memories and Kathryn’s investigation depict a character which changes nearly as quickly as you turn the pages. And in these moments of deep sorrow, the light of love never disappears.
I would recommend this book to anybody who likes psychological novels, family secrets and mysteries. Although some of the scenes are heart-rending, the story is great and extremely well told, with the right words and the right amount of emotion.

Thank you Florian for lending me the book

The pilot's wife has been adapted into a film. 
See my film review and comparison with the book here.

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