For the 32nd week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I picked The Poets' Wives by David Park. This was a randomly-selected book from the library in my search to find a book that began with the letter "P" (the word "the" doesn't count) since I'm doing the challenge alphabetically (e.g., two weeks for each letter of the alphabet).
The novel focuses on three women – Catherine Blake, Nadezhda Mandelstam, and the wife of an imaginary Irish poet. Each woman is dealing with her husband's death in a different way.
Out of the three stories, the first one - about Mrs. Blake - is by far the best. The story revealed how she was not able to read the poet's love letters until he taught her how, who trusted in his visions, and who learned to share her house with divine company only he could see.
Perhaps most insightful for me was reading the following passage that describes how Mrs. Blake feels even when Mr. Blake is alive: "I am alone...because I know there are worlds inside his head that I have no path to and whose very nature and colors seem always beyond my grasp. And that night I see most clearly what I have always known which is that I possess part of him but only part and although I know that he both loves and needs me....I am never to have all that is my full desire."
Towards the end of the story she is reflecting - perhaps dreaming - about the day she was married and then shifts to the focus that she is alone after his death. She flows into the thought that "soon my beloved will come to gather what is finally his and then I too shall be dressed in light and all the infirmities and afflictions of old age shall surely fall away. Such colors then, already spreading in wonder across new worlds, and I shall see the visions that were denied to my mortal eyes, my head and heart freed forever from their earthly [limits], and I shall be as the woman clothes with sun, no longer 'the shadow of delight.'
"He's whispering my name and holding out his hand. His hand that has no stain or mark [from writing poetry with ink]. He's telling me that the pure soul will cut a path into the Heaven of glory, leaving a track of light for men to wonder at .... I can barely raise my arm but I reach out and take his outstretched hand. Then we step into the other room together."
The next story in the book focuses on Osip Mandelstam who was exiled, then sentenced to hard labor for his anti-Stalinist poetry. He died at a transit camp in 1938 and his work was preserved solely in the memory of his wife. This story skipped around to different time periods and was not the most engaging story...at least compared to the story about the Blakes. It was confusing and difficult to follow.
The last section of the book is set in contemporary Northern Ireland, where a wife fulfills the last wishes of a second-rate poet. He clearly is not going to be missed by his family (wife and two daughters) nor the public who was largely unaware of his poetry.
There were so many layers of secrecy, grief, and loss within this story. Yet, it was one that I didn't want to read since there was an equal amount of disrespect in every relationship that centered on the husband and father.
The Poets' Wives, although well-written, is not a book that I would care to read again. I'm hoping the two books that begin with "Q" are a better use of my time.