Booklicious: Booklicious Reviews: Wish Her Safe at Home

February 09, 2010



Wish Her Safe at Home (NYRB Classics), the recently re-released 1982 novel by Stephen Benatar, begins innocently and optimistically. At first a type of delayed bildungsroman, the novel features narrator and middle-aged protagonist Rachel Waring, who inherits a house in southwest England and quickly relocates, determined to begin a new life as an independent woman. Attentive readers, however, will quickly realize that all is not well in Bristol, and soon after, attentive or not, the madness starts to creep in from the corners of every page. This leads some to call our Miss Waring an unreliable narrator, but I disagree with this prognosis completely. The events of the story that exist outside the narrator's mind are trivial; the meat and bones of the story are completely in Rachel's hopes and fears. There is no twist ending, no surprise, no light at the end of the tunnel, but instead the intricately detailed construction of a flawed and fragile mind.

Truth be told, this book was difficult for me to see through to the end. In it, Benatar has created such a believable, relatable descent into psychosis that instead of feeling empathy for Rachel, I found myself beginning to doubt my own sanity. With the proliferation of The Office style of comedy, the awkward pauses and cringeworthy humor seem timely and easy to imagine, and Benatar treats the subject with an admirable blend of humor, compassion and realism, but I just couldn't escape the feeling that Rachel is the exact type of person I would walk a mile every day to avoid. It is a wonderfully well-written book (with the exception of an unnecessarily explicit flower-and-genitalia chapter that seems out of place for its execution rather than its content), and I am glad to have read it, terrifying and disturbing as the experience may have been. I do not expect that most readers would have the same reaction as I did, though. A quick look at Amazon's review pages reveals a bevy of sentiments such as "it's impossible not to cheer her on," with most people finding her unwavering optimism enough to make the book a comedy rather than a tragedy.

In the end, though, Wish Her Safe at Home is a tragedy, and no less than the bloody Greek ones where everyone nails a relative and commits violent suicide. As the narration progresses, an impartial reader will bear witness both to the events leading to and the events resulting from Rachel's mental imbalance and watch the predictable, inevitable conclusion as it comes to pass in truly Hellenic fashion, with catharsis aplenty. Aristotle would be proud.


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