Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Review: Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephan Benatar (Spotlight Series)

I am reviewing Wish Her Safe at Home as part of the Spotlight Series tour for the publisher NYRB Classics.  Welcome to those who are stopping by as part of the tour.

Wish Her Safe at Home
by Stephan Benatar
NYRB Classics (January 19, 2010)
280 pages

Source:  Personal Copy

Publisher Synopsis:
Rachel Waring is deliriously happy. Out of nowhere, a great-aunt leaves her a Georgian mansion in another city—and she sheds her old life without delay. Gone is her dull administrative job, her mousy wardrobe, her downer of a roommate. She will live as a woman of leisure, devoted to beauty, creativity, expression, and love. Once installed in her new quarters, Rachel plants a garden, takes up writing, and impresses everyone she meets with her extraordinary optimism. But as Rachel sings and jokes the days away, her new neighbors begin to wonder if she might be taking her transformation just a bit too far.

In Wish Her Safe at Home, Stephen Benatar finds humor and horror in the shifting region between elation and mania. His heroine could be the next-door neighbor of the Beales of Grey Gardens or a sister to Jane Gardam’s oddball protagonists, but she has an ebullient charm all her own.

My Thoughts:
**This review may contain spoilers, however for this book, I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing…

Wish Her Safe at Home was a beautifully written story. The character of Rachel Waring was extremely complex and challenged me throughout the entire book. I am normally not a person who wants to know the plot before I read the book, but I felt that it may have assisted me with understanding the novel more fully, had I known just a bit more about where Rachel’s character was headed. Immediately after finishing the book, I want to read it again, with a “if I knew then what I know now” perspective.

As the summary shows, Rachel Waring inherited a home from her great aunt. Having never lived on her own before Rachel saw the possibility of infinite adventures to be had from the inheritance. She spent all of her time creating her perfect home, and the friendship she made with the young boy who created her garden was one that lasted through the rest of the novel.

Rachel’s character was interesting. I first thought that she was extremely eccentric, but came to learn (later than I wanted to) that she was slowly losing her mind. Her interactions with people around her were often humorous, however some of the conversations and scenes were frustrating and almost uncomfortable. I found myself confused during parts of the story. Rachel had a very active imagination and the book often walked through her imagined conversations with others. Near the end of the story, having always assumed that she wasn’t really speaking out loud to the people she was with, I began to wonder whether she was in fact saying the things, instead of just keeping her thoughts to herself.

The development of her love for Horatio was also unique. She went from simply looking to learn more about his history related to her home, to purchasing a painting of him, to eventually thinking herself married to him and expecting his child. The slow evolution of this relationship brought Rachel from being just eccentric, to odd, and eventually to crazy.

I am so happy that I chose this book as part of the Spotlight Series, and I do fully intend to read it again. The writing was beautiful and Stephan Benatar eloquently captured the mind and soul of Rachel. The book was set in the 1980’s, however only minimal references gave away this time period - it could easily have been an early nineteenth century novel in both style and story. Though a truly unique and challenging read, I highly recommend the book to lovers of fiction.

About the Spotlight Series:
The Spotlight Series is designed to "spread the word on quality books published by small press publishers all across the blogiverse." [more]

About NYRB Classics: 
The NYRB Classics series is designedly and determinedly exploratory and eclectic, a mix of fiction and non-fiction from different eras and times and of various sorts. The series includes nineteenth century novels and experimental novels, reportage and belles lettres, tell-all memoirs and learned studies, established classics and cult favorites, literature high, low, unsuspected, and unheard of. NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life. [more]


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book you chose.

  2. I read a review at Aarti's about this book and I'd love to read it but it doesn't seem available here unfortunately. It sounds wonderful and I'm glad you enjoyed your Spotlight choice.

  3. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! This is the book that made me take note of the NYRB Classics series, and I've been pushing it on people since I read it late last year. I LOVE Rachel and the way that Benatar never lets you know for sure whether she is just THINKING things or if she is actually saying them out loud.