Book review: The Headmaster’s Wife (Thomas Christopher Greene)


Although Thomas Christopher Greene has written three award-winning novels, he was new to me when I began reading The Headmaster’s Wife. And I’m so thrilled to have found him, in a world where – so far – I’ve chosen only very few authors whose writing to stalk and obsess over.

But – to the novel.

Arthur Winthrop is the headmaster of an elite New England boarding school. He’s found naked in Central Park and gets into loads of trouble, at which point he recounts a bizarre story to the police.

But Arthur’s memories crash into one another, yielding a winding narrative of love, grief, nostalgia, mystery, family and tragedy. And as the reader you begin to wonder:

What’s this story actually about? Is it a tale of marriage, a family, and the terrible things human beings experience? Is Arthur a bad guy or just a sad guy?

The interesting thing for me, having already read it, is that I don’t really know.

It doesn’t really matter.

I don’t want to give too much away because, as another reviewer has put it, “The Headmaster’s Wife is a book that should be read blind.”

You can expect lush descriptions of a top private school, its internal workings and its campus culture. You can expect class differences and romantic entanglement. But that’s all you should expect. The writing is so beautiful and the characters so full that the story resolves itself, sort of, and a few weeks later you want to read it again.

Here’s an extract:

…If you learn anything in a marriage it is when to give up. I used to think that all marriages ran the same trajectory. They start with wanting to climb inside the other person and wear her skin as your own. They end with thinking that if the person across from you says another word, you will put a fork in her neck. That sounds darker than I mean it to, for it is a joke. The truth usually lies in between, and the most one can hope for is accommodation, that you learn to move around each other, and that when the shit hits the fan, there is someone to suffer with.

If you like Wally Lamb and Gillian Flynn, you’ll adore Thomas Christopher Greene.

You should also, once you’ve read this novel, watch the author explaining why he wrote it: