Saturday 2 November 2013

The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman

When Rachel dies suddenly at the age of 36, leaving behind her wonderful husband, Max, and beautiful daughter, Ellie, the last thing she expected was to have to watch helplessly as they mourn her death.

It’s meant to be the bereaved who go through the seven stages of grief from denial to acceptance, but as Max and Ellie work through their grief, Rachel too struggles to come to terms with her death and all that means — especially when her husband starts to date again, and she realises that one day he will find love, and that Ellie will have a new mother figure in her life.

The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman will be published by Penguin on 13 February 2014 and is the author's debut novel.   I reviewed this book as part of the Real Readers programme.

First, I have to pay tribute to the beautiful cover.  Sadly, my proof copy has a plain grey cover but I absolutely love the illustration of the cover of the finished book, it's really eye-catching and quite mysterious, it doesn't tell the reader anything about the story - I like that!

The Dead Wife's Handbook is an unusual concept in that the lead character is dead.   Rachel died suddenly, aged 36 and left behind her husband Max and their seven-year-old daughter Ellie.   This is Rachel's story, told from the after-life.    I'll admit that I found this book fairly difficult to engage with at the beginning, but after just a few chapters I really began to fall in love with the writing, and the story.  It's sometimes difficult to suspend disbelief and to throw oneself into a story that for me, is beyond the realms of probability, but Hannah Beckerman writes very well with a sensitivity and understanding of the grieving process.

Whatever you beliefs, whether scientific or religious, this story will make you think about how the sudden death, or indeed any death, of a loved one affects those left behind.   What Hannah Beckerman has done here is to create another dimension to that grief, and added the thoughts and feelings of the person who has departed.  None of us actually knows what happens when we die, some of us believe that we know, but we don't.  Allow yourself to consider that your loved one is actually watching over you when they've gone, that they are hurting and grieving too.  Allow yourself that belief, then immerse yourself in this story.

The Dead Wife's Handbook is a very good debut novel.  It is original and challenges beliefs, it is also warm and often funny.

Hannah Beckerman is a former TV executive and Commissioning Editor. She has worked in the UK, Bangladesh and the US, where she worked for the Discovery Channel. Her work has been shown at the Sundance film festival, played in cinemas worldwide, and won numerous international awards. The Dead Wife’s Handbook is her first novel.  Follow her on Twitter @hannahbeckerman


  1. I really liked this one too Anne and wasn't sure I would have when I started it.


  2. Like you I usually like to read books that are believeable, about scenarios that could actually happen, but I really like the sound of this one. Sometimes these sort of books are the ones that make you pause to think and are a very rewarding read. Thanks for an excellent review Anne.

  3. I've already thanked you on Twitter, but wanted to thank you here, too, Anne for such a lovely review. Getting people thinking and talking about some of the themes in the novel is what I'd hoped for so it's great you've started that conversation!