Book Review: The Perfect Wife

Book Review: The Perfect Wife

While J.P Delaney’s previous novels The Girl Before and Believe Me had us guessing until the very last page, his latest novel, The Perfect Wife is as richly researched and well realised. Strangely, it feels very ‘now’, as if Delaney has taken the newspaper headlines of today and weaved them into fiction. Here, SL contributor Ann-Maria McCarthy shares the five themes that struck her when reading this new psychological thriller…

A Horror Story Opening

The Perfect Wife opens with a woman awaking from a coma. She has no real recollection of what has happened to her. This is a pretty horrifying opening, but what is to come is far worse. Abbie has not actually woken up from a coma, she has been made. She is a cobot – a companion robot. Her creator is Tim Scott, a visionary tech guru and founder of Scott Robotics.  She has been made to exactly resemble his wife, the real Abbie Cullen-Scott, who mysteriously disappeared. As she discovers more about her old ‘life’, she decides to find out what really happened to Abbie. 

AI – A Step Too Far?

Artificial intelligence (AI) has seen huge advances over the last decade, some might argue that is has advanced too far. In 2015, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Steve Wozniak were amongst the signatories of a letter warning the UN of the use of AI. In a seemingly human form, AI both repels and attracts us. It causes us to question what it is to be human.   Initially, even Abbie is disgusted: “Death would be surely preferable to this repulsive travesty of existence.” AI in female form is particularly problematic as the possible future subjugation of AI resembles the subjugation of women throughout history. 

A Sensitive Portrayal Of Autism

Abbie and Tim have a son, Danny. He has Heller’s syndrome, a particularly rare and pervasive form of autism. Delaney may have been inspired by his own experiences, his son was born with Joubert’s Syndrome, a rare disorder affecting the brain. Delaney writes with a heart-breaking clarity: “Every day you fall in love, and every day your heart is broken.” Children with autism can feel overwhelmed by the world, a feeling that the newly made Abbie knows only too well. Abbie forms a strong bond with Danny, their interaction in the novel is deeply moving.

Obsessive Love Is Identified

Obsessive and controlling love is brought under the microscope in this novel. Tim is a perfectionist with a Type A personality. He is used to getting what he wants, the toxic ‘bro culture’ that he creates at Scott Robotics is a testament to that. He is the definition of a misogynist. Women, in human or cobot form, are blank canvases to him, where he can draw his image of the perfect woman. Tim’s love is not the only obsessive love explored in The Perfect Wife, Abbie’s love for Tim is also obsessive. The more he pushes her away, the greater her desire to please him. Her existence becomes entirely focused on his validation. She treats love like it is a code that she can crack. 

A Very Human Novel 

So much of our modern world still boils down to our basest desires – our desire for love and our desire for control. Despite all our technological advances, the questions that we ask each other are not any more sophisticated than those our ancestors asked: ‘Do you love me?’ and its more troubling sister question, ‘What can I do to make you love me?’. Abbie spends much of the novel navigating these questions. Love is what ultimately drives Abbie, and despite her cobot form, what can be more human than that?

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