Original date of publication: 1982
My edition: 2010
Why I decided to read: it’s on the list of NYRB Classics
How I acquired my copy: Borders, March 2011
In the midst of Royal Wedding Madness, I incidentally picked up a copy of Wish Her Safe at Home, set during another time of Royal Wedding Madness (thirty years ago). Rachel Waring inherits a house in Bristol and moves there from London, abandoning her old job and roommate for a life of idle dissipation. She becomes obsessed with her 20-something gardener, as well as the first owner of the house she lived in—who lived and died two hundred years ago.
At first, the story is quirky and charming, a kind of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Going in to the novel, I liked Rachel right away; she’s youthful, exuberant and carefree, and doesn’t seem to care what the people around her think of her. Rachel seems socially awkward, saying and doing things that are “off” (in fact, for a while while reading I thought that she has Asperger’s or something).
But it becomes clear about halfway through the novel that there’s something not quite right with her or the way that she thinks. It’s one thing to be obsessed with Roger, the gardener, especially when he’s young and good-looking; but Rachel’s obsession with Horatio, the previous owner of the house, becomes creepy and eventually tragic as Rachel’s true mental state is revealed. Stephen Benatar’s prose style is sparse and effective, detailing Rachels’ descent precisely. This is an extremely moving novel, one that I liked much more than I thought I would.