Wednesday, January 22, 2020

“The Wife and the Widow” by Christian White – A Song of Betrayal

The Wife and the Widow by Christian White (Book cover)
Christian White has turned many heads with his debut novel which instantly became an international bestseller, and he returns to the fore with his second novel, The Wife and the Widow.

Taking place on a small island town in the dead winter, the story follows two women on a collision course of discovery, both trying to unravel the secret lives of their husbands and the darkness they concealed.

Christian White Opens the Veil of Secrets

The majority of us spend our lives with the people we love without ever really having to wonder about how well we really know them. Though movies and books would have us believe otherwise, most people aren't hiding some sinister side of themselves from the world and are simply living their lives to the best of their capabilities.

However, in the realm of fiction this seems to be more the exception than the rule; a character who doesn't hide anything comes about as often as Halley's comet. In Christian White's The Wife and the Widow, we are thrust directly into a nest of secrets where trust becomes more fickle by the second.

Opening the story on a small island town seemingly in the middle of nowhere, White presents us with two characters: Kate and Abby. On one hand, Kate is a grieving widow who, on top of all she has to deal with, is beginning to learn about her late husband's extracurricular activities. As she begins to suspect, he had an entire secret life he led apart from her, and the more she uncovers, the more troubling the picture becomes.

On the other hand, we have Abby, who is going through something not entirely dissimilar, with the only difference being her husband is still alive. No matter how much she refuses to believe it, the evidence of her husband's guilt keeps on mounting, and she has no choice but to try and cut her way through his web of secrets.

While the two women start off walking their separate paths, they are due on a great investigative collision course, and only together will they be able to complete each other's pictures.

The Clever Mystery of The Wife and the Widow

While they don't seem to be as popular as in their heyday, murder mysteries still seem to be littering bookshelves at a dime a dozen, with there being a constant stream of new thrillers and whodunits being pumped out.

As the genre has progressed over the decades, the focus of its authors has shifted in various directions, from being purely focused on the mystery to relegating it to the background in favour of character development.

As such, I personally feel it is more and more difficult to find novels with a truly solid mystery, which is why I feel The Wife and the Widow deserves a special commendation.

Though we do get to meet the characters and the location, which I will discuss a bit further down, the author doesn't take much time to get the mystery started and we are instantly drawn into a world of intrigue and countless questions.

The progress of the mystery and the unravelling of the answers all happen in a very logical and natural manner and there is always something for us to mull over as the reader. Our attention is never wasted on anything frivolous, and as Hercule Poirot would probably say, our grey cells are always working.

Perhaps the most difficult part of making a solid mystery is to mislead the reader while putting the right twists in the proper places, while never making them feel like they are being cheated. I don't want to give anything away about the story, but the big twist was legitimately well-integrated with everything the author had set up until then.

The smaller twists and revelations don't come out of nowhere, and from the reader's perspective, I do believe it is possible to deduce most of them, though you would probably need to be a pretty good sleuth yourself.

Broken Families

Generally-speaking, mystery novels prefer to focus on one thing or another and deliver a singular experience to the reader. Increasingly rare are novels such as this one, where the author tries to strike an accommodating balance between character development and plot progress.

From the moment we meet Kate and Abby, it feels like we never stop learning about them, peering deeper and deeper into their inner worlds as the course of their investigation slowly unravels them as well as the world surrounding them.

We are given a fairly complex examination of both women and the home lives they lead, exploring not only the repercussions of dangerous home situations, but also of life in near-isolation. Speaking of which, I do want to give the author his due credit for his depiction of the island in the dead of winter, driving home the point of loneliness like few I have ever seen.

Both our leads make for excellent and well-defined leads whose perspectives and motivations are very believable. With the narration consistently alternating between the two, we become privy to not only both of the investigative plotlines, but also two very different broken families.

The Wife and the Widow by Christian White (Book cover)
While Kate, mother to a young girl, is trying to contend with her husband missing without a trace and the empty home he left behind, Abby is navigating a potentially-deadly maze around her husband.

In the end, the author really brings to life this atmosphere of being uncertain about even your loved ones, creating an omnipresent tension which doesn't let up until the end.

The Final Verdict

The Wife and the Widow by Christian White is, overall, an extremely solid and satisfying mystery with some fairly thought-provoking and emotional explorations into two broken family lives.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers and mysteries, especially if they take place in an isolated location, then I strongly urge you to give this novel a chance.

Christian White (Author)

Christian White

Personal site

Christian White is an Australian screenwriter and author whose film feature Relic is set to come out in 2020. As a writer, he is well-known for authoring The Nowhere Child in his debut, shortlisted for numerous awards including the Australian Book Industry Awards' General Fiction Book of the Year.

The first draft of the book also won him the 2017 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. In 2019 he published his second book, The Wife and the Widow.

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