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The Mere Wife

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3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,643 ratings  ·  582 reviews
Two mothers—a suburban housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—struggle to protect those they love in this modern retelling of Beowulf.

From the perspective of those who live in Herot Hall, the suburb is a paradise. Picket fences divide buildings—high and gabled—and the community is entirely self-sustaining. Each house has its own fireplace, each fireplace is fitted with a
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Hardcover, 308 pages
Published July 17th 2018 by MCD
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  2,643 ratings  ·  582 reviews


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Ron Charles
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You don’t need to be a Tolkien-level expert in Old English to enjoy “The Mere Wife,” but it helps if you enjoyed Seamus Heaney’s glorious translation of “Beowulf” or endured that bizarre animated version written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, starring Angelina Jolie as the least convincing (and most naked) incarnation of Grendel’s mother. Headley borrows, twists and repurposes everything from her source text, sometimes riding parallel to the original and sometimes abandoning it altogether.

The
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Alex
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018
I was promised Beowulf in the suburbs, and here's the problem: it isn't. Does Headley know that you can't just name a character Grendel and call it a day? If she'd billed it as loosely-related Beowulf slash fic, that'd be one thing - it would, seriously, it would be one thing - it would be this thing minus the pretentious parts. What Headley has done here is, she's gotten the plot wrong.

Look, no, what do you know about the plot of Beowulf? Dude fights Grendel and then he has to fight Grendel's
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karen
Jun 26, 2018 marked it as to-read
a suburban retelling of Beowulf?? oh, this could be SO GOOD.

please be so good.
Jenia
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Listen.There's lots of ways I could start this review. I'm going to start it with, "The Mere Wifeis a retelling of Beowulf in the suburbs," because this is easily one of the best books I've read this year and that's the best elevator pitch I can offer.

The book centres on Dana Mills, an American marine who goes to fight overseas in the War on Terror. She gets captured, is executed on camera... and then wakes up 6 months later, pregnant. Scared of what might happen to her and her possibly-miracle,
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Hannah
This was absolutely breathtaking. Again I am finding myself in the situation that a book is so very custom-made for me that my review will definitely not be objective in the least. There was very little chance of me not loving this – and I knew this after the first chapter. Maria Dahvana Headley had me hooked. This was incredible, so as usual in such cases, this will be a review filled with superlatives.

Maria Dahvana Headley loosely retells Beowolf but in the best possible way: setting it in
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Charlie Anders
The Mere Wife is getting a ton of acclaim, and justly so. This retelling of the Beowulf legend focuses on two women: Grendel's mother Dana (a veteran of Middle East conflicts who came home mysteriously pregnant) and Willa Herot, the rich suburban woman who ends up marrying Beowulf. (In this version, Beowulf is called Ben Woolf). It's a story about women trying (mostly in vain) to protect their sons, and to deal with past traumas. But also, it's about displacement, because Willa Herot's fancy ...more
Allison Hurd
Wow. I am utterly blown away by this book. It has no business being this good. I'd expected a sort of interesting look at the story from the "monster's" side of things as has been so popular lately. I expected a thickly plastered white take on the myth, with maybe a dose of feminism on the way. I was not prepared. Instead I got this masterpiece of allegory.

CONTENT WARNING: (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics) (view spoiler)
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Spencer Orey
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scary-suburbs
This made me want to read Beowulf, so that's something. The actual story is alright? It's actually a bit sparse, extended and dressed up with interesting and occasionally experimental prose. Some of that didn't land with me, but enough did that I appreciated how the text opened up larger questions around whether we can ever really be safe, what kinds of monsters we imagine in our contemporary world, and what and who gets buried in attempts to build new exclusive communities.

I love the concept.
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Edward Lorn
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Headley weaves new cloth into the aged tapestry of BEOWULF, providing enough new material to remake the tale without ruining or so much as stressing the original seams. Everything fits perfectly. THE MERE WIFE is a master class of tailored prose, a stunning achieve that I cannot say anything ill toward. On track to be my book of the year.
Claire
I don’t even really know where to begin talking about how great I think this book is. The Mere Wife is an exquisitely told, brutal revisioning of Beowulf, set in modern, Stepford-like suburbia. In this way it is a story of mothers and sons, the equal intensity and distance of that bond. However, it is much more than this at the same time. Set against the backdrop of an unnamed (but ultimately recognisable) war, this is a story about the distancing of domestic life from global crisis, and what ...more
Anthony
This book is beloved by several of my friends here on Goodreads, but I cannot say that it is beloved by me. I feel like I’m a bit of a grump for saying this, but while it started out more or less in a promising fashion, its charms became increasingly elusive, and by the last quarter, its fractured narrative and stylistic leaps and confusing characterizations conspired to cause it to devolve into near nonsense.

I think Headley has some formidable skill with wordcraft — albeit an often excessively
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Tamsien West (Babbling Books)
This book is EXCELLENT. I don't really have words for how enthralled I was by it. The style and language were poetic, the story was really engaging and there were so many layers. A feminist, modern day retelling of Beowulf - apparently that is what was missing from my life.

The moment I finished I wanted to go right back to the start and read it again. Instant favourite.
Sarah
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“The world isn't large enough for heroes and monsters at once. There's too much danger of confusion between the two categories.”

4.5 stars rounded up to 5. I finished this book a week ago, and I have been delaying writing the review, because honestly, there’s no way I can do it justice. The Mere Wife is a contemporary retelling of Beowulf. Not only does it move at an exciting pace, while also containing lots of twists and turns, it’s largely allegorical, and gives the reader a lot to think about
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Gabi
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Re-listened in December 2019 - the impact was even stronger this time. Susan Bennett does such a fantastic audio rendition of the raw emotions in this book that feels like a novel length poem. Fantastic!
Definitely one of the most impressing books I've read (listened to) this year.

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The world isn’t large enough for monsters and heroes at once. There is too much danger of confusion between the two categories.

This quote is spot on for the book.

„The mere wife“ was a terrific
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wanderer (Para)
I have to admit I wasn’t too sure of the “suburban Beowulf” premise at first. But after a lot of praise and prodding by Jen of The Fantasy Inn (you were, as always, right – it was up my alley) I had to give it a try. I’m still not quite sure what I read, but I sure enjoyed it.

Listen to me. Listen. In some countries, you kill a monster when it’s born. Other places, you kill it only when it kills someone else. Other places, you let it go, out into the forest or the sea, and it lives there
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Oleksandr Zholud
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a great but heart wrenching story. It is loosely based on Beowulf and it is better to become acquainted at least with the plot of the original story for the fuller appreciation of this one. When I heard about the book, I assumed it will be akin to The Song of Achilles, i.e. retelling of a classical story but from a novel point of view. It is not. The story it tells, if one is unaware of the original is a contemporary psychological drama and social tensions.

This is a story of Dana Mills,
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Sarah
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book is absolutely incredible. I'm not a fan of Beowulf so I was a little bit sceptical about reading this but I'm really glad that I did now. Bringing the story into a modern setting is a stroke of genius and I found myself completely immersed in each of the characters stories and how they slowly intertwine. It is one hell of a masterpiece.
Kristin B. Bodreau
I am very torn over this book. I think if I had known going in that the “Fantasy” tag was really only applicable in the fact that it’s a retelling of a story that contained monsters, I would have been less disappointed. This was really just general fiction with a flowery writing style reminiscent of legendary tales. If you squint and turn your head about 45 degrees, there may be an iota of magical realism.

The disappointment in the lack of the fantastical aside, it is a very well written story
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colleen the convivial curmudgeon
Oct 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: group-read
I've been putting off this review, because I don't really know what to say. Needless to say from the rating, I didn't like it. I guess I'd say it's mostly the "poetic" writing style that I didn't gel with. It was just... endless. So many words to say so very little.

I mean, sure, there are a lot of themes here. Racism, sexism, motherhood, gender roles, humanity, monsters... but, like, this book could've been much shorter for the actual content of the story. (Granted, it was only 300 pages, but it
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Dawn C
Oct 04, 2019 rated it did not like it
DNF at 18%. I was wholly annoyed with the writing style and it didn’t get any better. Lines like, “Gren isn’t a sleeper. Neither am I. Who can sleep at times like this?” made me yell WHAT TIMES?? out loud to my house plants. We haven’t been told anything about “these times”, it doesn’t mean anything! And it continued like this this. It’s honestly just a lot of self important, bloated hot air that wants to sound clever but is essentially meaningless. I’m not even staying for the promised slash.
Jessica Woodbury
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
Both dream-like and razor sharp, this is technically a retelling of Beowulf but don't worry about remembering it from way back in high school. An avant garde Big Little Lies, looking at mothers and sons and the ways women build power and strength.
Hank
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scifi-club-read
I found myself trying to compare every little element of The Mere Wife to Beowulf at the beginning. It made this more of an English project and less of a fun read. I forced myself to stop and just listen to the story and after that it was magical (not literally, well sort of I guess, whatever). The not so subtle commentary on war, society, husbands and wives, good and bad ways to deal with the fear of raising kids and ultimately what you want to live your life for, was all perfect. The elitism ...more
Christopher Alonso
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Maria Dahvana Headley has created a modern retelling of the epic Beowulf. Here, Headley uses the tale as the basis for a novel about privilege, class, rage, gentrification, whiteness, and the role of women. Of all of Headley's books, this, I think, is her most lyrical, sometimes begging to be read aloud, much like the epic would have been read aloud. Headley observes the role of women, particularly mothers, how pressure from others can change people in ways they never could have imagined. It ...more
Nicole
I loved this. I'm always here for retellings, especially female-focused retellings, but this was QUALITY. I loved the author's spin on the story, while still capturing the feel of the source material; I loved the parallels and duality present throughout the book; I loved how there are multiple ways to interpret the events and yet they all feel right. I especially loved the Greek chorus of the mothers - their interludes were my favorite chapters!
Lucy Dacus
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is incredible. Headley plays with the original text of Beowulf, bringing it a modern context. I particularly appreciate the examination of post-war trauma and classist conflict.
Erin Glover
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-stars, favorites
This one goes on my list of all-time favorites. While the novel is patterned after Beowulf, you don't have to have read that story to enjoy this book.

A female soldier returns from the desert war to her hometown. There is a video of her being beheaded, presumably by ISIS. Therefore her return is miraculous. Only no one knows she's alive. She doesn't remember how she got pregnant, but she gives birth to a brown boy whom she names Gren. They hide in an old train station tucked inside of a mountain
...more
Pujashree
Oct 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't swear easily but this book is a fucking masterpiece! For a long time I was worried that it is not for everyone being overtly a re-telling of Beowulf, which not everyone is forced to read and close-read in advanced Literature classes in high school or college, much less appreciate or enjoy (which I honestly didn't at the time). That the prose and the structure might be too stylized, perhaps only appreciable by those familiar with Old English texts and Greek tragedies. It is all of that, ...more
Jessica Sullivan
“The world is not large enough for monsters and heroes at once. There’s too much danger of confusion between the two categories.”

This book is a modernized version of Beowolf and I’m not going to lie: I’m not familiar with the story of Beowolf, so I read this independent of any prior knowledge of or affinity for it.

There’s certainly a mythic, epic vibe going on here, complete with chapters narrated by Greek choruses. And I really, really dug it.

Two mothers and their sons make up the focus of the
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Kaa
There are some really incredible things in this book, but I was left feeling very ambivalent about it.

The good:
-the "chorus" scenes. I especially liked the chapter from the perspective of the dogs, but all of the chapters using plural first-person narration were lovely.
-some of the messages around feminism and white womanhood, and especially around heroism, were pointed and sharp in a way I really appreciated.
-the way the narrative drew on the original text - it certainly isn't an exact
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Kaora
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This one sadly wasn't for me.

It started out quite promising. The writing was quick and witty and really showcased the talents of the writer.

So what happened?

This is a story that is very loosely based on Grendel set in a similar time to now. It bounces around from perspective to perspective, from Grendel, to Grendel's friend, to Grendel's mother, to the mother of Grendel's friend. Even the dogs are narrating at one point. This isn't bad in itself but I found the collective 'We' narration of the
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Into the Forest: The Mere Wife (w/spoilers) 16 18 Apr 10, 2019 07:49PM  
Into the Forest: The Mere Wife (no spoilers) 14 14 Apr 09, 2019 06:13PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Please correct page number 3 219 Aug 18, 2018 12:34PM  

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Maria Dahvana Headley is the New York Times-bestselling author of, most recently, THE MERE WIFE (out July 17, 2018 from MCD/FSG). Upcoming in 2019 is a new translation of BEOWULF, also from FSG. As well, she is the author of the young adult skyship novels MAGONIA and AERIE from HarperCollins, the dark fantasy/alt-history novel QUEEN OF KINGS, the internationally bestselling memoir THE YEAR OF YES, ...more
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“People never think, until it happens to their place, that all construction is destruction. The whole planet is paved in the dead, who are ignored so the living can dig their foundations.” 8 likes
“But who's ever safe? Down below us are the kind of people who walk armed into churches and movie theaters and through libraries, blast fevers into federal buildings, and build bombs out of things they bought cheap at a hardware store. What kind of myth is it, that people like them are keeping the rest of us safe?” 6 likes
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