The Covered Wife centres on the central character Sarah, a young lawyer who is madly in love with Daniel. He is a fellow lawyer, a passionate and handsome man who comes from a large family – something that Sarah has always longed for after being raised as an only child by a single mother.
Their relationship is loving, passionate and fulfilling, but things begin to change when Daniel introduces Sarah to Rabbi Menachem and his wife Chani at a synagogue at Bondi Beach. Sarah is soon fully involved in the teaching, feasting and friendship as both she and Daniel decide to embrace their Jewish faith more fully. When they are given the opportunity to move to Jamison Valley with other believers, they marry and start a new life there. Sarah gives up her career to embrace a new, strict way of living but believing her life will now be one of more profound joy, meaning and love.
As the days turn to months and then years, things become progressively darker and more intense as, little by little, Sarah’s freedoms are taken away. Things culminate four years on at a wedding between a young convert and an older man, Joseph. But Sarah can’t contact Joseph’s previous wife, her friend Rebecca, who had kept her job on the outside world. Did Rebecca really agree to divorce Joseph after not providing him with a child? Has Rebecca left the community of her own free will, or has there been some foul play? And what about her own strained relationship with Daniel and the influence Rabbi Menachem has on both of them?
I confess I found this a slow read to begin with, and I almost stopped reading partway through. But I carried on and was rewarded with a story that was increasingly intense and claustrophobic. I didn’t like Sarah’s character to begin with, nor the other characters in the book, but as I read further, I began to realise that Sarah was just the sort of personality that would believably be caught up in a cult. And by the novel’s end, I felt a great deal of sympathy for her. This wasn’t an enjoyable read, but I don’t think this was the author’s intent anyway. The Covered Wife is an unsettling, thought-provoking novel that examines the lengths that some people will go to please others and to belong. It certainly gives some insight into cults and how charismatic leaders slowly ensnare their followers.
Reviewer: Karen McMillan