Book review: 'The Wives', by Lauren Weisberger

It is a light, easy read and raises some pertinent points about ambition and the need to glamorise oneself to extreme and ridiculous levels.

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In The Wives by American author Lauren Weisberger, three women with radically different backgrounds find themselves in the midst of a storm. One of them, Karolina, is married to a senator with a lot of ambition… and her marriage and her personal life become the focus of national television. The narrative alternates between the embattled Karolina, the fiery and quite-confused Emily, and the down-to-earth Miriam who can be, at the oddest times, quite irrational.

The story is told from the perspective of these three characters.

Emily is an image consultant to the stars of Hollywood, but of late, her work hasn’t been smooth sailing. A certain Olivia Belle has been stealing her clients and Emily is very close to being out of work altogether. She claims to not like children, does not hold her thoughts back, and is very open about her flirtations despite being married. Nevertheless, when things go downhill, she takes refuge with Miriam and her family. Sometimes, Emily’s words are not as subtle or considerate as they should be.

Miriam has devoted her life to her family and her three children. She lives in a wealthy suburb, tries to mingle with the very odd crowd that calls itself her neighbours, and tries to stay fit. And the other women around her seem too perfect, too healthy, and exceptionally (and even surgically) glamorous. She does not exactly fit in with the rest, and that leads her to jump to conclusions. She is also considerate and understanding, and sometimes judgemental in a quiet way.

As for Karolina, she is a former supermodel and well known. She is also married to Graham Hartwell, a senator who has his eyes on the American presidency, a charismatic man who was married once before. His young son Harry is the light of Karolina’s life. And she is booked for drunken driving with Harry and his friends in the car under very strange circumstances. Her arrest becomes national news, and her marriage falls apart.

And it is Karolina’s plight that brings Emily and Miriam to her side, to help her through the crisis, give her an image makeover and legal assistance, and maybe discover why she was charged in the first place. It’s a strange life for her, with the tides of change pulling her this way and that — and all that keeps her sane is the hope that she might see her stepson again.

There are also the husbands – Emily’s husband Miles, who is apparently flighty but not as shallow as he seems, Miriam’s husband Paul who begins to act rather strangely in spite of his happily married life, and Karolina’s husband Graham, who is driven by inhuman ambition. Added to the mix is the fashion editor Miranda Priestly, who wants to work with Emily again at any cost — a cold woman who has little time for niceties.

At 407 pages, The Wives reveals each woman’s hopes and challenges, their quirks and suspicions, sometimes humorously. Emily has certain embarrassing encounters with an English gentleman, Karolina must decide to cut her hair, and Miriam discovers some very odd saleswomen at parties. What brings them together though is the bond of friendship. Each of them tries to keep the other going, no matter how exasperating she may be.

Plot-wise, The Wives presents each woman separately, dealing with her own issues. But they are brought together because of Karolina and her messy life. Over the course of the story, their assumptions are challenged, and sometimes, they are even forced to change their minds on what they thought was true. There is no dearth of embarrassment or embarrassing situations for these characters. Each of them must deal with her own demons and put them to rest.

The Wives is a light, easy read and raises some pertinent points about ambition and the need to glamorise oneself to extreme and ridiculous levels. In short, it deals with the life of a certain jet-setting, high-flying group of people convincingly.

Sometimes, the pacing of the novel can be a little slow, particularly as the narrative keeps shifting back and forth. Character backstories are woven into each segment. The writing is smooth and sprinkled with suspense and neat characterisation, and a very realistic portrayal of the wealthy suburbs, right from the neighbours down to the coffee shops. The glitzy, intense lifestyle of these individuals is so far removed from the lives of ordinary folk that it’s intriguing. Miriam’s neighbours are very interested, for example, in losing weight and keeping their faces porcelain-young. Nobody, it seems, is quite at home with her natural looks. Apparently, surgery keeps marriages together, or even affairs, whatever the case may be.

Overall, The Wives is an interesting and insightful take on the lives of three very different women.

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Book review: 'The Wives', by Lauren Weisberger

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