Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Mere Wife” as Want to Read:
The Mere Wife
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Mere Wife

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  3,439 ratings  ·  738 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
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published July 17th 2018 by MCD
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Mere Wife, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Corley Elizabeth You could read The Mere Wife without knowing anything about Beowulf! I do think having some knowledge of Beowulf enriches the reading experience, but …moreYou could read The Mere Wife without knowing anything about Beowulf! I do think having some knowledge of Beowulf enriches the reading experience, but this book can stand on its own strengths.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Winifread This is an amazing book. I could not stop until I devoured it whole, and I am a demanding reader. Whether you need to buy it depends on what kind of b…moreThis is an amazing book. I could not stop until I devoured it whole, and I am a demanding reader. Whether you need to buy it depends on what kind of books you like. I loved the deep engagement with the painful questions about human nature - the growing insight that deep down every one of us is, or can be, a monster, and what it takes not to become one. That is the real struggle in the book, rather than who kills whom, or who survives. Even more, I loved the writing - the increasingly poetic style, the rich economy of language, and the impeccable mastery of a multiple point of view. The best book I have read in months.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,439 ratings  ·  738 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Mere Wife
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 m
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 d
Jun 26, 2018 marked it as to-read
a suburban retelling of Beowulf?? oh, this could be SO GOOD.

please be so good.
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 tod
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 Wife is 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-miracl
Charlie Jane 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 gat ...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)
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
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.
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. B
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 ha ...more
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.
“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
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.


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 experienc
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
Para (wanderer)
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 forev
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,
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.
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. ...more
Jessica Woodbury
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
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 t
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 o ...more
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.
I liked the idea of this far more than the execution.

...which is, I know, essentially the book reviewer’s version of “Bless your heart,” but I honestly can’t think of anything kinder to say. I do think the idea of how Gren’s mother would translate to the modern world and why she might be the way she is was great. I can definitely see what she was trying to do with the prose, updating the language of the classic. I liked the idea of the Greek chorus of women. I can offer the excuse that while I k
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
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 pos ...more
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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! ...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
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
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, B ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
SciFi and Fantasy...: "The Mere Wife" Discuss Everything *Spoilers* 161 157 Dec 23, 2019 05:52AM  
Into the Forest: The Mere Wife (w/spoilers) 16 19 Apr 10, 2019 07:49PM  
Into the Forest: The Mere Wife (no spoilers) 14 16 Apr 09, 2019 06:13PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Please correct page number 3 219 Aug 18, 2018 12:34PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Piranesi
  • The Outside (The Outside, #1)
  • The City We Became (Great Cities, #1)
  • The Book of Lamps and Banners (Cass Neary, #4)
  • Telling Tales
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle, #1)
  • Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #2)
  • Riot Baby
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow
  • Upright Women Wanted
  • The Unstill Ones: Poems
  • Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #1)
  • Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle, #1)
  • The City in the Middle of the Night
  • Magic for Liars
  • The Only Good Indians
  • Summer (Seasonal, #4)
See similar books…
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

Articles featuring this book

While some tales are old as time, every so often a writer comes along with a fresh take that can make us see a familiar story in a completely...
300 likes · 58 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“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.” 11 likes
“Listen,' someone whispers into my ear. 'Listen to me.'
Am I dead?
'Listen,' the voice whispers. '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 forever, calling for others of its kind. Listen to me, it cries. Maybe it's just alone.”
More quotes…