My grateful thanks to Ben Willis at Penguin Random House for an advanced reader copy of ‘The Widow’ by Fiona Barton in return for an honest review. It is published by Transworld on 14th January 2016. and is available here in the UK and here in the US.
When Glen Taylor is killed in a road accident, his widow Jean is finally free to tell her version of events surrounding Glen’s actions the day two year old Bella went missing.
I have to admit to being a bit reluctant to getting started with The Widow as there seemed to be so much publicity about it, with some mixed reviews, that I was afraid I’d be disappointed. I wasn’t. Sometimes there’s a book that just seems to get everything right and ‘The Widow’ is just such a book.
There’s an oppressive, claustrophobic feel so compelling that it is impossible not to read just one more page and then another as the plot twists its way along. What works so well is that much of the action is set against the prosaic mundanity of life and a dull marriage so that it is entirely believable. I think Fiona Barton’s background in journalism is part of this success. She doesn’t overstate the journalistic elements, but presents them with a realism that convinces the reader utterly.
I loved the way in which ‘The Widow’ moved between the 2010, and the widow Jean Taylor’s first person account of events, and the third person past tense account of the events from Bella’s disappearance in 2006 because I thought it added depth and tension. Fiona Barton weaves these timescales together so the novel is satisfyingly resolved.
Fiona Barton reveals character with consummate skill so that even Detective Bob Sparkes’ wife, Eileen, who features for only a few lines, is known to the reader. But the real talent is in what she withholds too. The reader is kept guessing about Jean right to the end of the story. I hated Glen with a passion from the moment he was introduced.
Some readers might find it hard to read a book concerning the disappearance of a child, about online pornography and about the scruples or otherwise of the media, and Fiona Barton raises real issues about how well we know the people we live with and what we might do in the same situation as Jean. For me it is these things that make ‘The Widow’ such a success. Life is sleazy and muddy and ‘The Widow’ shows that element of our society to perfection. I wonder how many people are living with someone whom they suspect of something terrible but dismiss as their ‘nonsense’. The psychological aspect of the novel, whilst actually quite understated, is quite disturbing.
Having initially been reluctant to read ‘The Widow’ by Fiona Barton, I now want to shout about it from the rooftops. Creepy, compelling, absorbing, it is stunningly good and deserves to be one of THE books of 2016.