The Widow by Fiona Barton

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This novel was recommended to me by an assistant at my local waterstones as “the next” The Girl on the Train. I hate that, for the record. Whenever a film or book is described as “the next” I am immediately put off. As I recall, I didn’t actually read Girl on the Train for ages, because it was pitched to me as the next Gone Girl. Anyway, gripe over. The lady in waterstones rarely steers me wrong, so I bought it and it’s been in my “to read” pile for a few months.  Since moving to Wales I am reading (comparatively) a lot less than I used to.

So, The Widow is the story of a man who has been accused of kidnapping a small child, and potentially sexually abusing her, and the impact this has on his life and the other people involved in the case.

The story is told from three main viewpoints; Jean Taylor, the wife of the accused, Glen Taylor, Kate Waters a journalist who reported on the story, and Bob Sparkes the detective running the investigation.

At the beginning of the novel, Glen has recently been killed in a road accident, and Jean is trying to put her life back together.  Reporters are still harassing her, trying to get her to open up about the missing child, 2 year old Bella Elliott, and to admit if her husband had been involved in her disappearance.

Kate manages to talk her way into the house and get Jean to agree to an exclusive interview, by convincing her that it will put an end to the media interest once and for all.

Bob Sparkes has not been able to put the case behind him; he believes that Glen Taylor kidnapped and murdered Bella, and wants to know what really happened, so that he can close the most awful case of his career.

Similarly to What She Left, The Widow is told in a non-chronological narrative that flits between the present (2010) and 2006 when Bella first went missing. The viewpoint alternates between the three main characters in sections labelled The Widow, The Reporter and The Detective.

It’s really interesting the way the author gives you little insights into the characters from certain words or thoughts expressed, and you then have to think about the events that preceded and followed this snippet to put it into context.

I found myself bouncing back and forth between pitying and loathing Jean; I find it hard to imagine sticking by a man who has done such awful things -this isn’t a spoiler in terms of if he did or didn’t commit the crimes he was accused of – don’t worry ! – but it is revealed that he has been up to some pretty dodgy stuff.

Glen treats his wife as if she’s some sort of wife android; she has to be well presented at all times, the house must be immaculate, she has to keep her emotions in check, and isn’t allowed to express anger or sadness; she especially isn’t allowed to protest against “all his nonsense”. Their relationship is just bizarre to me, and I can’t understand why she puts up with it. At the same time it is clear that Jean herself has some deep rooted issues…

Dawn Elliott the mother of the missing child is portrayed differently depending on the character perspective; Kate sympathises with her situation, yet brazenly manipulates her to get to the story; Jean blames Dawn for not taking better care of her daughter, and expresses contempt for her public appearances & the “Find Bella” foundation, questioning what she is doing with all of the money people have donated.

I think it’s well known that the British media can be quite aggressive when pursuing a story; The Widow portrays this from both perspectives, the upsetting impact it can have on the subjects, and the need for the journalists to get to the truth and scoop their competition.

The Widow also explores the concept of “trial by media”.

This is a really interesting, thought provoking psychological thriller, and I fully expect it to be turned into a slick movie set in New York shortly. 😉

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Cheerio!

Stephani Xxx

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