Sunday 20 June 2021

The DutchWife

Finished June 13
The Dutch Wife by Eric McCormack

One of my cousins recommended this book to me as one her favourite reads, so I hunted down a copy. The narrator, who is never named, is a writer whose wife is a lawyer and who both travel quite a bit. The book opens in a very conversational style, addressed to "Gentle Reader" and it ends with a note addressed the same way. It is written to seem that it is the author talking, an interesting way of telling this fascinating story. It is in the first few sentences that we learn about the Guinea worm, a terrible parasite that enters the human body through impure drinking water. This was a plague in the tropics for years, and was still a problem when this book was written. More recently a program funded by a foundation started by Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President has been able to eradicate it successfully. 
The author has recently returned to an Ontario town called Camberloo (a thinly disguised Waterloo, where the author lived and taught for a time) and rents half of a large house. He soon meets his elderly neighbour, Thomas Vanderlinden and becomes friendly with him. Thomas is interested in sixteenth century history and obscure writings, but his own history is something that he begins to share with the narrator, mostly done in a series of hospital visits when he becomes taken ill. 
Over a series of visits, Thomas tells the story of his mother Rachel, her husband Rowland, and the man that Thomas knows of as his father. Rachel met Rowland through her father who was a well-respected judge. Rowland had served as an expert witness on occasion. He was an anthropologist and interested in many different cultures. He traveled often, and at one point was gone for months. After telegraphing Rachel to let her know of his imminent arrival back home, the man who showed up at the door claiming to be her husband was a man Rachel had never seen before. As we learn Rachel's story and what she did when faced with these unusual circumstances, we also learn Thomas's and Rowland's stories. We see Thomas, when he learned of this part of his mother's history, search for Rowland and go on a long and strange journey to distant lands, and we learn of Rowland's travels. 
The title of this novel refers not only to the obvious nationality of spouse, but also is a term for a spouse who is purpose is that of a useful wife, and a term for an object placed between the legs in hot climates to avoid rashes and fungus. Both terms arise in the plot. 
This book is an adventure tale, a psychological mystery, and a tale of relationships. It is a fascinating read. 

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