#LiteraryWives: A Separation by Katie Kitamura

Literary Wives is an on-line book group that examines the meaning and role of wife in different books. Every other month, we post and discuss a book with this question in mind:

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

Don’t forget to check out the other members of Literary Wives to see what they have to say about the book!

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

Goodreads synopsis: A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild landscape, she traces the disintegration of their relationship, and discovers she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love.


This book reminded me of Outline and Transit by Rachel Cusk – the narrator feels at a distance and seems to talk about the people around her more than about her own story. Which isn’t what I was expecting from the synopsis. I found that there isn’t enough focus on the narrator/wife, her husband Christopher, or their marriage. The thing that kept me reading was the question of what happened to Christopher. But in the end, we don’t really find out. We know he’s been found dead, but what happened? What was he doing in Greece? Were there secrets being kept, mysterious goings-on, or was he just taking a vacation? And why did he want to keep their separation a secret?

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

Despite the fact that she has already moved on in her life (having moved in with Yvan), the narrator is surprised by the level of grief that she feels over Christopher. She does say that they had a good marriage at first, but, ultimately, Christopher could not be trusted. (“In some essential way Christopher was not a man to be trusted…”)

Our marriage was formed by the things Christopher knew and the things I did not. This was not simply a question of intellect, although in that respect Christopher again had the advantage, he was without doubt a clever man. It was a question of things withheld, information that he had, and that I did not. In short, it was a question of infidelities — betrayal always puts one partner in the position of knowing, and leaves the other in the dark.

Often the experience of being a wife goes beyond the relationship with the spouse, and in this book I found the narrator’s relationship with her in-laws loomed large and uncomfortable. Despite being separated from Christopher for months, she is not free of them because they were never told about the separation. And because even at this point she chooses not to tell them, she is tied to them; she feels obligated to search for Christopher when he goes missing, and the obligations continue after he is found dead. She is not even free to mourn on her own – they assume she is as shocked and grieved as they are.

As much as I want to know the answers to all the “whys” in this book, I don’t think they are meant to be answered. In a Rachel Cusk-ish way, Katie Kitamura tells the story as it is. Often in life we don’t know why we do the things we do, and we might never know the answers to every question. I also found that the story is served up with a heavy side of melancholy – even the bits of wisdom are given with a dose of pessimism.

People were capable of living their lives in a state of permanent disappointment, there were plenty of people who did not marry the person they hoped to marry, much less live the life they hoped to live, other people invented new dreams to replace the old ones, finding fresh reasons for discontent.

Next up for Literary Wives: Ties by Domenico Starnone, Monday August 5, 2019 – Join us! 



19 thoughts on “#LiteraryWives: A Separation by Katie Kitamura

  1. whatmeread says:

    Yes, as I said to Eva, I don’t think the plot about the husband dying is the point in this novel as much as her grief and feeling of connection to her husband after his death. It’s about the residual ties, which take her by surprise. They turn out to be so strong that she’s rethinking her relationship with her boyfriend by the end.

    • Naomi says:

      It’s too bad I didn’t know more about the novel before I read it – I was expecting something very different than what it was.

      Re-thinking her feelings makes sense having spent so much time thinking about him all of a sudden. Kind of like ‘out of sight, out of mind’. She basically lived and breathed him while she was at the hotel (well, as much as you can live and breathe someone who’s not there).

  2. A Life in Books says:

    I think we came to much the same conclusions about this one, Naomi. I remember feeling held at arm’s length by our narrator’s distan, rather formal tone, too. I’ll be interested to see how you get on with Ties. I still remember its explosive opening chapter.

    • Naomi says:

      That’s exactly it!

      I’m looking forward to reading Ties. I’ve already searched it up at the library, and noticed that it’s only 150 pages. Perfect for anyone who wants to read along!

    • wadholloway says:

      Love the idea behind the reading/reviews. As a too-many-times ex-husband, I recognise that the ex-relationship retains a hold on you for a long time. You can’t love someone, or be loved, and then be indifferent with a snap of the fingers.

  3. The Paperback Princess says:

    I very much agree with you about this one. I did find the connection to her in-laws interesting but by then we’d been held at such a distance for so long that I almost didn’t care anymore. I wanted the narrator to matter more in her own story. Instead she was a vehicle to tell Christoper’s story.

    • Naomi says:

      That’s exactly the problem I had with Outline (and Transit, but to a lesser extent). I just can’t care enough about the characters when they’re at such a distance.

  4. madamebibilophile says:

    I’m not sure this is for me, but I do think the exploration of grief sounds interesting. The strength of grief for something we thought we’d moved on from can be really surprising.

  5. buriedinprint says:

    I’ve only half-read your post on this one, because i do want to read it. Now I’m super curious about the point at which it seems some of the readers in your group diverged (caring/not caring) when some other information is revealed. She interests me from a plotting perspective, errr, I think that’s the wrong word, from the perspective of how she arranges things, the order in which she shares/reveals things/feelings. Not everyone thinks that’s a plot thing, more a character thing. Whatever you call it, I’m curious. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      From that perspective, I think you’ll find this book worth reading!
      (It’s fun/interesting when we have different reactions to the books!)

  6. annelogan17 says:

    Ok I think this book would really frustrate me. And you know i love books about marriage but…not enough focus on the marriage? No explanation for the death! Ugh no thank you.

    • Naomi says:

      Was it being compared to Gone Girl?! It’s nothing like Gone Girl!

      (P.S. I miss your blog – I will be back, I promise! Have been just barely keeping my head above water.)

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