Monday, October 13, 2008

Wife in the North

Wife in the North is one of those books that turned out to be considerably different from the book I thought I would be reading when I first picked it up. Yes, it is one woman’s (a pregnant one, at that) story of what it was like to suddenly leave a rather glamorous job in London to relocate to a remote area of northern England with her husband and two young sons. Yes, just as the book’s cover indicates, and one would expect, there is a good bit of humor involved when a woman trades in her high heels for a pair of rubber boots. And Judith O’Reilly, who is very good at laughing at herself along with the reader as she describes the culture shock she experienced in her 350-mile move to the north, provides plenty of laugh-out-loud observations about herself and her new neighbors.

But there is a lot more to this book than that.

O’Reilly agreed to move to Northumberland, England’s northernmost county, for a two-year trial period because she knew how much the move meant to her husband (who strangely enough kept his London job and left the family alone for days at a time while staying in the family’s London home, or later, with friends there). While she was not unfamiliar with life in Northumberland, O’Reilly got much more than she bargained for during those two years.

Among other things, she gave birth to a baby daughter, dealt with the fact that her oldest son was unhappy in his new school and suffered at the hands of bullies, provided care and attention to her aging parents, moved into temporary housing when her own home was overrun by the builders charged with doubling her living space, and did her best to make new friends while retaining her old city friends – all part of an effort to give her family’s new lifestyle a fair shake before deciding where to live when the two years were done.

One aspect of O’Reilly’s Northumberland learning curve will especially intrigue her fellow bloggers. She began a blog because she needed a place to vent about her feelings and her new experiences, hardly believing at the time that anyone other than herself would likely ever read what she wrote there. And for a long time, that seemed to be the case. It was only when she began to blog about her son’s unhappiness at his school, and the way that he was being bullied there, that she learned the hard way that locals were aware of her blog. Suddenly it seemed as if the whole world was reading and she found herself semi-shunned by many of her newly acquired friends. There may be a lesson there for all of us.

Wife in the North is, first and foremost, a book about one family’s sudden and dramatic change of lifestyle but what I will remember most about it is the strong sense that it gives of the author’s tremendous love for her children. I suspect that female readers will easily identify with the stories O’Reilly shares about her three children and that they will enjoy the book even more than I did.

P.S. to the author: It would have been a good idea to refuel the family auto yourself even when your husband was at home, or at least to check the gas gauge before embarking on long, isolated drives in all kinds of weather. The fourth or fifth time that you were shocked to find yourself stranded on the side of a country road I started to wonder whether or not you were being a tad passive-aggressive toward your husband regarding his forgetfulness – seemed a bit like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Regardless, the incidents made me laugh and I enjoyed meeting some of the folks who stopped to help you.

Rated at: 3.5

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