First there was Gone Girl – a true gem of a psychological thriller. Then, came The Girl on the Train touted as the next “Gone Girl”. And now we have The Widow claiming to be a worthy successor to “The Girl on the Train”.
“The Widow” is the debut novel of Fiona Barton, a much accomplished journalist. It is difficult to talk about this book without any spoilers, but let’s try. One quiet October afternoon in 2006, two year old Bella Elliot disappears from her backyard. Detective Bob Sparkes’ investigation leads him to the doorstep of Glen Taylor, an ordinary deliveryman. The titular character, Jean Taylor, stands by her husband as he is questioned by the police, hounded by the media and freed by the court. Ostracized by family and friends, she hopes for a happy ending. Four years later, after the sudden death of her husband, Jean decides to share her side of the story.
Told from the perspectives of three main characters - Jean Taylor, reporter Kate Walsh, and detective Bob Sparkes, the book gets off to a quick start with the story flitting between the past and present. The mystery of Bella Elliot’s disappearance has you hooked from moment go. I started reading under the presumption that Glen Taylor was guilty as accused, why else would Jean, as per the book blurb, “be free to tell her story on her terms” and “tell us what she knows”. Few pages in, I began to doubt my assumption. Maybe they were just an ordinary couple being harassed by the police and media while the real criminal got away. The plot is intriguing enough to set your mind abuzz with so many questions – Is Jeanie the perfect guileless wife? Was she involved somehow? Could Bella still be alive? Is Jean the kidnapper? Perhaps she wanted a child to fill the void in her marriage. I felt both sad and mad at Jean, especially at the end.
The premise is interesting but felt more suited to a shorter story. The revelations are weak and after a certain stage, the story becomes predictable. The POVs are scattered and repetitive at certain points. However, Ms Barton puts her journalism experience to good use, giving readers a peek into all the action behind sensational headlines. With a tighter narrative, this book would have been a superlative read. Though not electrifying, the Widow is an enjoyable, thoughtful page turner.
My favourite lines from the book:
''No one wanted to know us now. They just wanted to know about us."
"He wondered who felt worse – him with the case falling apart in front of him or her with the case piling up in front of her."
“The simple lies are the hardest, funnily enough. The big ones seem to just fall off the tongue.”