What does it mean to be a poet’s wife, his muse and lover, there for the heights of inspiration and the quotidian of the day-to-day, and oftentimes, too, the drudgery of being in a supporting role to "the great man"?
In this exquisite and sensitive new novel, David Park explores this complicated relationship through three luminous characters: Catherine Blake, wife of William Blake, 19th-century poet, painter, and engraver; Nadezhda Mandelstam, whose husband, Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, died in a transit camp en route to Siberia during Stalin’s rule; and Lydia, the wife of a fictional contemporary Irish poet, who looks back on her husband’s life in the days just after his death. All three women deal with their husband’s fame or notoriety, taking seriously their commitment to the men they married and to assisting with and preserving their work. And this despite infidelities, despite a single-mindedness at the expense of others, and despite hardship sometimes beyond comprehension. Set across continents and centuries, under wildly different circumstances, these three women exist as a testament to love, to relationship despite the odds, and to art. Deeply insightful and beautifully wrought, The Poets’ Wives is David Park at his best - a novelist who finds dignity and grace away from the spotlight, and who reminds us that art has the power to capture even the quietest of voices.
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The Poets' Wives: A Novel was actually a book I listened to by mistake. Someone on Goodreads recommended The Poet's Wife, as a book I might enjoy. I didn't look carefully enough and chose the wrong book when browsing Audible.com. It turned out to be a very serendipitous mistake. After listening to the Audible version of The Poets’ Wives: A Novel, I have to disagree with the other reviews that I’ve read. I really enjoyed it. I found it to be an interesting and entertaining audio book.
Each of the three sections was a distinct story about the marriage of a poet, as told through the voice of his wife. Two were actual poets’ wives: Catherine Blake, wife of William Blake and Nadezhda Mandelstam, wife of Osip Mandelstam. The third story involved the wife of a fictional poet in modern times. When picking the story, I was very aware that the stories would be about the lives and relationships of the characters, particularly the wives, and was not expecting a lot of poetry.
The three stories were similar in style: first person narration told through flashbacks into the past. Perhaps that’s why I liked it so much. All of the three women were older, looking back through their lives. Their personalities and experiences were all different, as were their partners’. Perhaps having a narrator give life to their individual voices made the story more appealing and coherent. I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version and would definitely recommend it. For me, it was very good listen. Now onto finding The Poet’s Wife, which I do intend to read.