Book Review: ‘The Widow’ by Fiona Barton

The WidowAh, what can I say about The Widow?

Well, if you like a good psychological thriller that will rock your world, keep looking, because this was exceptionally bad.

I know better than to believe a book’s back cover when it says, “Perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train!” I know that’s entirely a marketing scheme by publishers to sell books. That’s not why I bought The Widow. I bought it because it sounded interesting and I thought it would give an interesting and thrilling voice and story to the woman behind a man who did something terrible. I’m now learning that not only do publishers compare their latest novel to other bestsellers to sell books, but they also word their back-cover premises to sell books and, as a result, completely mislead the story. The Widow offers you none of what the back cover promises, trust me.

This thriller is supposed to be about a woman, Jean Taylor, whose husband dies unexpectedly when he is hit by a bus. Not only that, but her husband, Glen Taylor, was certainly a man of interest in the years before his death, suspected of kidnapping and murdering a young girl who went missing four years prior. So when he dies, you expect Jean to shed her layer of anti-feminist compliance and become a badass or something, right?

Wrong. She stays exactly the same. She changes nothing. She is still a scared and emotionally immature widow who stood behind her husband when he really didn’t deserve it. That’s not to say she stood behind him out of shear human decency, no. She merely stood behind him because she didn’t know any better.

The Widow does not offer a particularly liberating view of women, nor a portrait of a marriage. I may need to quickly go check a calendar, but it is 2016, right? Not 1956? In what universe are readers supposed to be intrigued by a woman who passively agrees to every eyebrow-raising thing her husband does, from losing jobs to explaining away his habit to watch online pornography? Does the lady who wrote this book really expect her readers to be riveted by a woman standing behind her husband, just because he’s her husband and that’s what she “has to do”? C’mon.

But the thing that bothers me most about The Widow is that it completely fails as a character study, which was one thing that it could have particularly excelled at. Let me accept for a minute that Jean Taylor is not the feministic thriller heroine I enjoy. I’ll accept that, for argument’s sake. I’m willing to accept any kind of character if their testimony is convincing enough, and that’s just the problem here. In a novel whose title and back-cover description promise an intriguing delve into the mind of a woman who kept her husband’s secrets for too long, testimony and revelations on Jean’s part are shockingly infrequent in The Widow. I don’t feel I know Jean Taylor any better than she knows herself. This is a clear sign of weak characters and plot, not to mention the fact that the majority of the novel is from the perspectives of boring, commonplace police detectives trying to figure out what happened to a little girl. Just…don’t read this. 2/5 stars.

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