Elizabeth Buchan’s New York Times bestseller Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman was hailed as “a thoughtful, intelligent, funny, coming-of-middle-age story” by The Boston Globe. Now she’s back with another wise and entertaining novel about a woman who veers off the beaten path—and finds much more than she bargained for. After nineteen years of being the perfect wife to an ambitious politician, Fanny Savage is restless. Tired of merely keeping quiet and looking good at public engagements, she remembers the career she abandoned and the life she left behind as a successful partner in her father’s Italian wine business. She has devoted two decades to being the Good Wife. Was it worth it after all? Could it be time for a trip back to Italy—to the pleasures of sun, wine, and food? Could it be time for . . . a change?
When Fanny, 23, first lays eyes on Will, 28, he is making a speech in his bid for a seat in Parliament. They fall in love instantly, and this latest novel by Buchan (Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman,etc.) records the parallel 19-year trajectories of their marriage and Will's political career, the private and the public. Buchan crafts beautiful sentences, which she stacks in airy, digestible paragraphs; yet the novel fails to convey the excitement of the events in Fanny's consciousness that constitute the real plot. She wrestles from first to last page in service of a single question: what exactly does it mean to be good? Fanny wishes to be not just the titular good wife but also a good mother to 18-year-old Chloe; a good daughter to her fiery wine-merchant Italian refugee father, Alfredo; and a good sister-in-law to the alcoholic Meg, who seems to lurk in every doorway. Fanny must also please her husband's political party leaders by appearing in skirts of the correct length and avoiding all substantive talk at state dinners, and she feels duty-bound to reach out to the mother, Sally, who abandoned her at age three to run off to America. Yet these relationships, which constitute the substance of the novel, have scant weight. Even when Fanny makes an impulsive trip to Italy, the story fails to ignite. Buchan's fans will still find much to admire in this thoughtful, intelligent effort, but will hope the author's next springs more vividly to life.