“Wish Her Safe at Home” by Stephen Benatar (1982) – 217 pages
One can well understand the difficulties publishers have had with the fictional work of Stephen Benatar. In 2007, Benatar attempted to get his second novel “Wish Her Safe at Home” which was first printed in 1982 republished. First he went to Penguin Classics and then to 36 (!) other publishers, all of whom turned the book down. Benatar then self-published 4000 copies of the novel himself under his own Welbeck Classics imprint.
The main character of “Wish Her Safe at Home”, Rachel Waring, is a decidedly odd character. She is 47 years old living with her roommate Sylvia when she inherits a Gregorian mansion in Bristol, England from a strange old aunt. Rachel decides to move in to the big house rather than sell it.
So here we have the story of a plain middle-aged lady remodeling an old house, not exactly the stuff of best-sellerdom. Lyrics from old songs are strewn throughout the novel, none of them newer that the late 1940s. The novel is written in somewhat antiquated language with Rachel as narrator. This is not your typical novel out to please its audience in every possible way. This is one oddball English book.
The perceptive reader will notice early on that the novel is edging into black comedy territory. (Not to say that the readers of the 37 (!) publishers who rejected the novel lacked perceptivity.)
However that is not the end of the story. Consider the following item from Wikipedia.
“He (Benatar) bumped into a man when returning some leftover wine from his book launch, and ask him to look at his book; he was Edwin Franks, the managing editor of the New York Review of Books publishing arm. Franks “read the book straight away and was knocked out”, and the New York Review of Books published the novel in January 2010. Screen rights have been bought by a screenwriter who met Benatar in a bookshop.”
Stephen Benatar is one enterprising author.
“Wish Her Safe at Home” is a novel I’ve been wanting to read since John Self’s very positive review way back in 2007 (See the first comment of the 58 comments for the article.). Also I’ve found that any book republished by NYBR is well worth reading. This novel fits in well with the other novels on the NYBR Modern Classics list in that it is a quirky individualistic read far off the well-beaten path of more traditional novels.
Rachel tells her story in “Wish Her Safe at Home” in a lively and likeable fashion. The characters she meets at her new house are memorable, and Benatar does have a way with dialogue. The novel is certainly pleasant and enjoyable scene-by-scene. Much of the novel is humorous in an idiosyncratic English way. Sometimes weird unexpected things happen such as Rachel’s strong physical sexual attraction for Roger, the guy who is helping build her garden.
“Wish Her Safe at Home” is known for its shocking ending which I will not disclose. For me the ending was not a surprise; Stephen Benatar subtly foreshadows this ending from page one of the novel.