Review – The Dead Wife’s Handbook by Hannah Beckerman

By | January 27, 2014

‘Today is my death anniversary. A year ago today I was still alive.’


Rachel, Max and their daughter Ellie had the perfect life – until the night Rachel’s heart stopped beating.

Now Max and Ellie are doing their best to adapt to life without Rachel, and just as her family can’t forget her, Rachel can’t quite let go of them either. Caught in a place between worlds, Rachel watches helplessly as she begins to fade from their lives. And when Max is persuaded by family and friends to start dating again, Rachel starts to understand that dying was just the beginning of her problems.

As Rachel grieves for the life she’s lost and the life she’ll never lead, she learns that sometimes the thing that breaks your heart might be the very thing you hope for.

Sometimes someone else finds the words you want to – Fern Britton said this book was “beautifully written and full of love”. I struggle for a better way to sum up this really accomplished debut by Hannah Beckerman.

From the very first page, we know that Rachel has died – suddenly, unexpectedly, and just short of her thirty-seventh birthday.  The story is told from Rachel’s private viewing platform – where the clouds below part unpredictably and outside her control, allowing her glimpses of the loved ones she has left behind.  Max, her grieving husband, is a wonderful father to seven year old Ellie – with Rachel, we watch and eavesdrop on some of the most wonderful conversations between father and daughter as they come to terms with Rachel’s absence.  We meet her mother – who is beautifully drawn in her quiet grief, and concern that she won’t have a part in her grand-daughter’s life as time goes on. As time goes on, and as Max moves on – well meaning friends help him to start again, and his attempts to find a new partner are funny and heartbreakingly poignant in turns. Throughout we sit with Rachel as she analyses and comments on all she sees, as life moves on without her but her memory and presence remains at its centre.

This is a story about the grieving process – underlined by chapter headers that capture the stages of grieving. But this isn’t a book that makes you sad – it’s funny and uplifting, with Rachel’s comments on what she sees, sometimes with anger and indignation, and the rich humour that runs through the pages. In fact, the balancing act is quite perfectly achieved, beautifully judged, and you’re left with the warmth of feeling that life does move on but love endures.  I’d highly recommend this book to just about anyone.

My thanks to netgalley and Penguin Books UK for my advance reading copy. The Dead Wife’s Handbook will be published in paperback and Kindle editions on 13th February.

Hannah Beckerman lives in London with her husband and their incredibly lively toddler. She is a former TV and film producer who spent fifteen years producing and commissioning documentaries about the Arts, History and Science before turning her hand to writing. Other than reading and sleeping (both rare but much-cherished pleasures) she’s a big fan of great TV drama, films, long country walks and travel. She currently spends far too much time on social media but would, of course, deny the fact if anyone pointed it out. (Follow her on Twitter, and judge for yourself!) The Dead Wife’s Handbook is Hannah’s first novel. She sincerely hopes it won’t be her last.

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