Friday August 31, 2012
Review by ASHA GANESAN
The Man Who Forgot His Wife
Author: John O’Farrell
Publisher: Doubleday, 309 pages
IT doesn’t matter what you wear, Vaughan. Just be yourself.”
“Fine. Just be myself. So, er, what is ‘myself’, exactly?”
There have been many times in the past when a book’s synopsis raised my expectations, only to dash them once I started reading. In the case of John O’Farrell’s The Man Who Forgot His Wife, though, the situation is actually the opposite. The synopsis does not do the story justice and, in fact, trivialises what is actually an insightful story about the experience of coming to terms with being an adult – the second time around.
The Man Who Forgot His Wife tells the story of Vaughan, who has lost all memories of his life, from his childhood and adolescent years to his marriage and children. The story is told from Vaughan’s point of view, so it begins with his first thoughts after his memory loss. This subsequently leads to a search for his past, examined by a man who does not identify with that past any more. The synopsis gives no indication of the complexities that O’Farrell explores using this ingenious plot device. If one were to read the synopsis, the book could easily be overlooked for being banal.
And it’s far from that. It is, in fact, a very entertaining read peppered with witty one-liners. The first half is pretty fast paced, as Vaughan is quickly forced to discover his past and his identity. However, as one reads further, the issues explored by the book become clearer. Does your past truly define who you are in the present? Do the people around you really know you for who you are? Can you right the wrongs of your past by simply forgetting them?
Interestingly enough, it is not just Vaughan who is going through these issues. The same questions can also be applied to supporting characters like Vaughan’s wife, Madeline, or his best friend, Gary. These characters are given as much importance in the story as Vaughan. Gary provides a stark comparison to the “current” Vaughan, possibly hinting at the kind of person that Vaughan might have been. Look out for Vaughan’s exchanges with his hospital roommate, Bernard, which will leave you in stitches. Furthermore, some of the best moments take place during Vaughan’s interaction with his children, who are pretty cheeky themselves. It is amusing to read how all of them do not make it easy for Vaughan to rediscover himself.
As the extent of how much Vaughan has forgotten becomes clearer, a picture of his not-so-perfect life forms. Here, O’Farrell explores some of the issues any couple today faces and refrains from placing the blame on one party. I took that to read that O’Farrell is hinting at how change is possible, even late in life and even after years of marriage. One does not need to wait for a dramatic life event to take place to make it happen. The old Vaughan wasn’t living. The new Vaughan wants to live, but doesn’t know how.
One thing O’Farrell has done well is to make you root for Vaughan and the journey of renewal that he is on without making his characterisation too sappy. We find out who Vaughan is, when Vaughan finds out who he is. While some scenarios presented are a little over-the-top, it is worth overlooking that because the book is just fun to read! Who doesn’t like a little drama in their life?
Not that are no flaws in the book. There are some parts that slow the narration down. While the book does bring up some interesting challenges faced by people in relationships today, it could have gone deeper. Then again, while it might lack depth, if you’re looking for a book that will give you a good laugh, this is definitely worth a read.