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Someone's Wife by Linda Burgess

Linda Burgess's "memoir of sorts" is a collection of personal essays that range from the deeply personal to the observational.

There are essays on her lifetime of being an All Black's wife, her love of education, and a powerful essay on the death of her baby Toby.

Admittedly, the very first sentence in the book so nearly put me off continuing with the book. Burgess recalls a moment in a lift with two absolute literary powerhouses where it was discussed who would be mentioned first in the news if the lift was to crash.

Yet, you can't stop Burgess's subversive writing from infiltrating your mind and thoughts. On reflection, Burgess was quite possibly right - as the wife of an ex-All Black, her death would be mentioned first. She so gently pushes readers to confront some telling truths about society, but yet does it in a gentle, deeply intelligent way. It's the first hint of what the rest of the book holds.

Burgess is an accomplished writer and her power over the craft is so subtle it is immense. Each piece is so deeply observant, well-crafted and clever, while the topics are so diverse, you won't be able to skip a single one.

In her introduction Burgess discuss how plot is not story. "Who cares if someone does something if the reader of viewer can't be presented...with a person with interesting, credible layers." Indeed.

Yet Burgess doesn't place herself at the centre of the story. While it is obviously linked to her life, it's more of, as she states, "a sidelong glance at the times in which I've lived".

She explores family and friendships, distorted memories, living overseas and of upsetting the 'old boys' club' of rugby.

While every topic may not appeal, every essay is a must read. Burgess speaks some real home truths - her essay on something so simple as being left-handed had me nodding my head ecstatically.

The birth, and death, of her wee baby Toby forms the heart of the book. It is a hard chapter to read, full of emotion and trauma. Burgess hints at what is to come in the preceding pages but it is still a confronting, yet important, read. It is, in a macabre way, placed in the perfect position in the book. There is time to reflect and move past the pain in the rest of the book, although it still lingers throughout.

Someone's Wife is a subtle piece of work that will linger with the reader for a long time. Burgess has a way of gently, ever so gently, taking the reader by the hand and opening their eyes to the nuances of society. A wonderful read from a woman who isn't afraid to push boundaries.

Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Allen & Unwin, RRP $36.99