Wife On The Run
Allen & Unwin
Read from my local library
Wife and mother of two teenagers Paula McInnes has her safe and comfortable world rocked twice in days, both times by technology. The first time involves her 14yo daughter Caitlin and a facebook picture, the second involves her husband of 17 years Hamish and some indiscretions she discovers via his mobile phone. Determined to get away from it all, Paula decides to load up her two children and her 80yo father and just get away from it all. Do that caravan trip around Australia that she’s always planned to do.
There are several rules on the trip but the most important one is no personal technology. iPods are to be communal, played in the car between destinations. Anything else Paula wants strictly prohibited, wanting them to focus on the experience, not uploading it to facebook. She agrees with her father’s suggestion that they bypass the official homework and Paula hands the kids education over to him for some ‘life lessons’.
But running away is never the answer and when Hamish sets out in pursuit and Paula and the crew pick up a traveler on the road, things are going to get a bit more complicated. Paula is going to have to sort out her head and what she wants….and then face her future.
I absolutely loved Fiona Higgins’ book The Mothers’ Club so when I heard about this one I immediately added it to my the top of books I had to read. I’m really interested in books that are exploring social media and the negative aspects of them as well, so this book plays into that interest perfectly. My children are younger than Paula’s but I feel like I’m going to need to be prepared for this sort of thing early. My son is 6 and has an iPod touch which we monitor but already he’s asking what facebook is and can he have it. When I was in high school, it was prior to the myspace, facebook etc craze and cyber bullying hadn’t even been thought of.
Paula has what is no doubt, a very bad day. Firstly she’s called to her daughter’s school to be shown a post on facebook that has been made, concerning her daughter. There’s a graphic photo and her 14yo daughter has been excused from school until they discover the culprit, get the photo taken down and sort it all out. To make it worse, after her husband has an accident, Paula discovers incriminating messages on his phone, which devastates her. It’s clear that things haven’t been going well for them for a while and she makes the decision to take off on a trip around Australia with her children and her father while Hamish is still recovering in hospital.
I love the idea of the trip around Australia, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I also didn’t blame her for her desire to get away, especially from her husband. Hamish struck me as a bit of a traditional sort of guy, he went to work and earned the money and contributed very little to what happened at home. In the book you get Hamish’s point of view occasionally and some of his thoughts made me cringe. As a woman who has had two children, his views on his wife’s body post childbirth and her lack of interest in sexual relations were really blunt and at at times, cruel. Even as he’s chasing his wife and family across the country, attempting to prove that he can change and that he wants Paula back and for them to begin a new life together, Hamish is betraying her. He seems incapable of actually putting anyone other than himself first and every time he was back on the page, I just wanted him gone again.
The journey Paula and her family take sounds like such fun, especially once Paula loosens up and turns her two kids over to her dad for ‘life lessons’. When the kids complain that Paula’s cooking is ‘crap’ he gives them the week’s shopping budget and instructs them to buy what they want with the warning that they’ll have to eat it and it’ll have to last them the week because they won’t be buying anything else. The two children go mad buying the sort of food that they think they want to eat but after a few days, it’s clear that they’re learning a valuable lesson about what sort of food their bodies need. I absolutely loved the character of Paula’s dad. He’s such a funny old bloke, full of wisdom and charm. I have to admit, I did find his luck on the punt a bit far-fetched until I saw this article, which may have been the inspiration for his success in the 2012 Melbourne Cup! I also feel a bit miffed, as I backed the winner of the Melbourne Cup in 2012 but did not get anywhere near as lucky as Paula’s dad!
I loved the way this book explored social media and its impacts on not only teenagers but also an entire family – this photo is after all, the catalyst for everything that follows. It’s also an exploration of marriage, or rather the implosion of one. Paula is horrified to discover what Hamish has really been doing on his laptop late at night, especially who he has been doing it with. Hamish’s thoughts, as I’ve mentioned, are often really hard to read. In a society where women are already judged on their ability to “snap back” to their pre-baby bodies after giving birth, hearing those sorts of thoughts from the man who fathered Paula’s children…. who watched her give birth to them….. who was supposed to love her, was horrible. I felt so sorry for her, that he felt that way looking at her, even though he didn’t voice those thoughts to her. I actually loathed Hamish far more for his view of Paula than I did for his other actions.
I have to admit, my interest did wane during some of the more fantastical parts of the road trip, such as the “Brazilian” Marcello and Hamish’s repeated interactions with a mysterious Indigenous man who appears to help him at the most desperate times. However the parts of the story concerning family and marriage and relationships kept me utterly fascinated.
Book #241 of 2014
Wife On The Run is book #87 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014