My Husband by Maud Ventura review – a passion victim – The Guardian

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A sensation in France, this tale of a besotted wife who demands devotion from her husband has been likened to Patricia Highsmith and Gone Girl
A week may be a long time in politics but it can feel longer still in a tempestuous marriage. Superficially, the couple at the centre of Maud Ventura’s compulsively disquieting debut embody domestic bliss: they have good looks and professional success, two children and an elegant home. Yet over the course of just seven days, the novel’s besotted narrator convinces herself that her spouse of 13 years is variously having an affair, utterly devoted to her and poised to demand a divorce. The prologue hints at a looming crisis, but what maintains the suspense is the heroine’s combination of subjugation and vengeful empowerment (the secret notebook in which she logs her husband’s misdemeanours feels like payback for every fairytale women have been fed about romantic love). There’s simply no way of telling how far she’ll go, and her increasingly volatile unreliability as a narrator makes the story all the more riveting.
“I love my husband as much as the first day I met him,” she says. “I think of my husband all the time; I wish I could text him all day. I imagine telling him I love him every morning, and I dream of making love to him every night.” It’s a kind of boast – there’s vanity in it, and no wonder, given the efforts she makes to maintain this long extension of their honeymoon period. A regime of body-sculpting yoga and going glasses-free because her husband prefers it are just the beginning: every aspect of her life is sublimated to her feelings for him.
Servile as that sounds, she’s also manipulative and, when she needs to be, ruthless. Because it turns out that her infatuation is matched only by her fury at her husband’s apparent failure to return her obsessive passion. Every interaction is analysed with neurotic intensity, and punishments for falling asleep without saying good night or seeming to slight her at a dinner party can range from hiding his keys to conducting an illicit rendezvous with another man.
My Husband became a literary sensation when it was published in France in 2021, selling nearly 100,000 copies and winning the Prix du Premier Roman. In translation – and the translation is excellent – it has already been likened to everything from the novels of Patricia Highsmith to Gone Girl to Fatal Attraction. For anglophone readers, there’s an added satisfaction here: the narrator’s erotically charged mind games and her ability to switch between coldness and unbridled sensuality is all so very, well, French.
The twist at the end is genuinely surprising, but even as it casts fresh light on the preceding pages, it does in some ways make the book less interesting. What’s undeniable, though, is the noirish spin it adds to the heroine’s belief in that women’s mag staple “the couples that last are the ones that keep the mystery alive”. Readers won’t be surprised to learn that while Ventura began writing My Husband deeply in love with her boyfriend, she finished it after he dumped her.
My Husband by Maud Ventura (translated by Emma Ramadan) is published by Hutchinson Heinemann (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply


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