Title: The Headmaster’s Wife
Author: Thomas Christopher Greene
Narrator: Stephen Hoye, Kevin T. Collins, Tavia Gilbert
Audiobook Length: 6 hours, 12 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 25 February 2014
Bottom Line: Overly manipulative
“Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the Headmaster of Vermont’s elite Lancaster School. It is the place he feels has given him his life, but is also the site of his undoing as events spiral out of his control. Found wandering naked in Central Park, he begins to tell his story to the police, but his memories collide into one another, and the true nature of things, a narrative of love, of marriage, of family and of a tragedy Arthur does not know how to address emerges. Luminous and atmospheric, bringing to life the tight-knit enclave of a quintessential New England boarding school, the novel is part mystery, part love story and an exploration of the ties of place and family.”
Thoughts: The Headmaster’s Wife is a study of grief and the myriad ways it can affect people. It is also a study of contrasts. At its simplest version, it is a beautiful story of coping mechanisms and their tragic consequences. However, its insistence on also including a mystery reduces the effectiveness of the entire story.
For one thing, the major plot twist that occurs halfway through the novel appears to be there strictly for shock value. The emotional context of this plot twist is manipulative and overwrought. One could achieve the same understanding of Arthur’s mental state without the need for a big reveal or change in direction. It is too dramatic for the actual story, and its heavy-handed use does not mesh well with the fragile emotions at play among the characters.
Another area in which the story struggles is the explicitness of the sex scenes. While they are necessary to show readers the true nature of certain relationships, the details of each scene are prurient and avoidable. They do nothing to further a reader’s understanding and become strictly voyeuristic.
Along the same lines, the sex scenes maintain their salaciousness regardless of the gender of the narrator. Female and male characters approach the description of such scenes with the same level of detail and lasciviousness regardless of whether such descriptions coincide with the narrator’s voice in other scenes. As a result, these scenes become that much more uncomfortable and jarring.
This is one audiobook which further erodes the effectiveness of the story. Tavia Gilbert’s narration of the second section of the novel is quite good, and Kevin T. Collins’ performance of various secondary characters is also decent. It is Stephen Hoye’s performance as Arthur however that makes this audiobook worthy of more than a few grimaces. He speaks so slowly and deliberately that it makes every sentence a trial in patience. Then there is the way his voice tends to trail off towards the end of sentences. The rise and fall of his cadence is uncomfortably stilted and unnatural. As he is supposed to be telling his story, it is an affected monologue that jars the ear. Sadly, by the time the other narrators start their sections, it is already too late for a listener to truly enjoy the audio experience.
I wish I could say that I enjoyed The Headmaster’s Wife more than I did. For me, the combination of poor narrators, unnecessarily explicit sex scenes, and an overly manipulative plot eroded any pleasure that I derived from the mystery and various plot twists. This may have been a more successful reading experience had it been accomplished with the print edition. Suffice it to say, it was a disappointing experience for a much-touted novel.