“Simon now lives with his face to the wall. Every photo of him in the house is turned around so his nose is pressed against the cold plaster. Unable to see what’s going on. Out of the picture. Ignored.
How he’d hate that.”
Two wives. One husband. You can see how that might be awkward. Imagine being happily married for 28 years. You have three children, a lovely house and a husband who travels a lot – but even after all this time, you still love each other. Then one day you get a call that turns your world upside down: your husband is dead. You are devastated. You go to the funeral… and come face to face with his other widow. Another wife, another family. They never knew you existed, you never knew they existed. It can’t be true. It must be a mistake. It has to be her fault – all of it. Or: is it? But then again, not technically wives any longer. Widows. Two widows.
At first I was not convinced by this at all; both women seemed so insubstantial, spoilt, self-indulgent, but Lynsey Dalladay at Transworld has been so generous with review copies that I thought I would carry on (I couldn’t face writing the email to Lynsey to say I was abandoning it) and around page 150 it really picked up and suddenly I was hooked. Both women became more “normal” although both were still well outside the range of normal humans I interact with every day, and once both women were set on finding out what had happened and how they had been concealed from one another for so many years, it became a lot more gripping.
Some of the best writing is actually nothing to do with the bizarre conflict situation; it’s about the fear both women have of being left behind, of ageing, of not being perfect any more. Writing about the inherent distress of parenting teenagers, particularly in this age of technological openness and simultaneous concealment. When I was searching for a quote to top this review, I came across lots about ageing and teenagers, but actually not so many about the insidious betrayal at the heart of the book.
While I didn’t expect the various twists and certainly got quite into the threatening darkness the novel takes on, I was unconvinced by the ending; the revelation was too brutal and sudden. There was a large cast of extraneous characters and a few too many diversions from the plot (e.g. a stalker in a cupboard committing vandalism). On the whole though, a gripping read worth making it through the lengthy set-up.