REVIEW: The Covered Wife by Lisa Emanuel

by |June 8, 2021
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When Sarah, a successful young lawyer from Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs meets the handsome and smart Daniel in The Covered Wife, there’s an instant attraction. Raised by her non-practising Jewish mother, Sarah is an only child who yearns for the type of large, loving family that Daniel comes from. Influenced by the charismatic Rabbi Menachem Lev and his wife Chani, who take the new couple under their spiritual wing, Sarah finds herself increasingly appreciating the meaning and comfort that can come out of Jewish tradition and teachings. She and Daniel become mainstays of ‘The House’, an ultra-religious congregation led by Menachem & Chani in Bondi.

Lisa Emanuel

Lisa Emanuel

But at what stage does religious devotion and orthodoxy move along the scale to fundamentalism? And then cross the line to restrictive cult-like extremism that threatens personal freedom, individual choice or even physical safety?

Four years later, married with a young son, Sarah and Daniel have become integral members of a would-be utopia for the sect’s devotees, set up by the Levs in the Blue Mountains as a cloistered religious community. The proverbial frog placed in a pot of pleasantly tepid water which is gradually heated, remains and ultimately boils to death without hopping out of its confines. Sarah, likewise, faces ‘stay or flee’ options as she is increasingly restricted and sequestered, her actions more and more limited, with regulations concerning her daily life (even her sex life with Daniel) progressively increased like a noose slowly tightening around her neck.

Lisa Emanuel’s impressive debut examines what makes a person allow themselves to become devoted to extreme fundamentalism, even when it may be to their own detriment. What is it about the sense of belonging or a heightened spiritual plane that convinces an otherwise educated and intelligent individual to blindly accept religious despotism and normalise extremist behaviour which they would have formerly found abhorrent?

As screws tighten around Sarah, her plight is both engrossing and terrifying. Just like Offred’s story in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, readers will find it hard to disengage from her horrifying, restrictive world and will want to discuss Sarah’s contradictions and choices with gusto. This makes The Covered Wife a perfect book club choice for discerning bibliophiles.

The Covered Wife by Lisa Emanuel (Pantera Press) is out now.

The Covered Wifeby Lisa Emanuel

The Covered Wife

by Lisa Emanuel

Sarah is a smart, young lawyer working endless hours when she falls head over heels for Daniel – handsome, passionate and part of the kind of large, chaotically loving family Sarah longed for as the only child of a single mother.

When Daniel introduces her to a charismatic young couple, Rabbi Menachem Lev and his wife, Chani, despite herself, Sarah is drawn in by their progressive beachside synagogue and the song, feasting and friendship that come with it. By the time she and Daniel move to the Jamison Valley with the other believers, Sarah can't imagine life without the joy, meaning and love they've discovered...

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  • Jess

    August 7, 2021 at 8:47 pm

    Hi Scott, I have just finished reading The Covered Wife and although I agree it’s a good enough read and opens a number of discussion topics, I am bothered by the use of a specific religion as its platform. Especially since antiJewish sentiment is not hard to foster.
    If you are not familiar with the Jewish faith and don’t realise that this is fiction you could easily foster very negative attitudes. I am interested to have your opinion on this.
    Kind regards,
    Jess Talbert

  • Astrid

    August 8, 2021 at 7:08 pm

    Most annoying book I’ve read this year because spoiler alert – NOTHING happens! She marries into a cult with strict rules and she stays! She doesn’t speak up, it’s incredible she allowed the rabbi his wife & her husband to abuse her !
    Everyone outside the cult is telling her to get out but she loves her husband – who himself is either having an affair with Kentucky fried or getting off seeing the rabbi – it’s warped! Don’t waste your time.

  • Scott Whitmont

    September 15, 2021 at 4:06 pm

    I Jess…I am Jewish…as is the author. I suppose that whatever religion was used in the story to illustrate what can happen when people become fundamentalist or follow rules blindly would have the potential to be pilloried. If a reader leans towards anti-Semitism then I doubt that this book would make a difference to an already held opinion. Conversely, I don’t think that the story itself would create anti-Semitism…at least I hope not…but it would just flag the aforementioned dangers of extremism. I also think that it is clear that it is a novel. I don’t blame the author for writing what she knows about….In fact, many authors these days are criticised (as I’m sure you know) for writing about things outside their own experiences. I have spoken with Lisa and she has not (to date) received an anti-Semitic response or backlash.

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