Book review: The Widow

If you’re wondering which book is going to be “This Year’s Girl On The Train,” stop stressing about it: it’s this one.

There’s a few reasons for this and some of them are commercial – the publisher, Transworld, won the book in a hotly contested auction and has thrown its full weight behind getting it into as many readers’ hands as possible. Industry bible The Bookseller has already dubbed it TYGOT – it’s well on its way to being a must read.

But the real reason is that, like Paula Hawkins’ novel, the book has the kind of premise that makes a reader’s mouth water in anticipation.

the book has the kind of premise that makes a reader’s mouth water in anticipation

Think about it:

A little girl named Bella vanishes and all the evidence points to a man named Glen Taylor, but due to an epic police cock-up the trial collapses and Glen walks free. Throughout the whole experience, despite his character being dragged through the mud, his wife Jean stands loyally by him.

Then four years after Bella’s disappearance Glen dies leaving Jean free to be herself, to tell the truth about her husband for the first time. What happened behind closed doors? Is Glen guilty and if so, why did Jean stand by him? And what will she do now?

the widow book coverCome on, it’s got you going “oooh” already, hasn’t it?

Told through the eyes of three different narrators – Bob Sparkes, the police inspector who messed up the trial; newspaper journalist Kate Waters who’s after the inside story and the widow herself, the story is slowly pieced together by the three characters, the pace gathered and you wonder what on earth Jean is going to reveal next…

It’s a fantastic idea for a story, and there are some sympathetic, well drawn characters. The glimpse into how newspapers operate – signing real-life stories onto a contract and hiding them away in a hotel – is accurate and realistically told without anti-press hysteria but also without hiding the more uncomfortable side of the business: the doorstepping, the news editors screaming for their headlines.

But as for the widow herself, as for Jean – I never felt I truly got under her skin. I couldn’t understand why she was so loyal to such a mediocre person as Glen or why she kept a lid on her own needs and desires for so long. She was strangely ageless to me (if the author specified her age at some point I apologise for missing it, but from the way she talked she could have been anything from 35 to 55.) This could be because Barton paints such an effective picture of her suffocating home life that you end up picturing Jean as a stifled 1950s housewife rather than a 21st Century woman.

One thing is for sure, though – this book is going to be huge. It hits on a raw public nerve and gives us a peek behind the headlines. TV rights have already been snapped up, and I can hear the water-cooler conversations brewing already. Definitely one to watch.

The Widow by Fiona Barton is out on 14th January.

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