THE SILENT WIFE
Author: A.S.A Harrison
Headline RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
We’ve all heard stories of relationships falling apart and two people, once in love, turning on each other. In most of these cases, no one wins. The Silent Wife is a restrained portrait of a long-term relationship that falls apart, driving one player to discover a new side … and the other to death.
What seems clear from the outset is that this is more of a ‘why’ than a ‘who’. As the novel opens, Jodi Brett, 45, has no idea that her “life is now peaking” and that a few short months will “make a killer out of her”. Or does she? She’s prepared to overlook the affairs she knows her partner, Todd Gilbert, has had, but deep down she knows that her 20-year relationship with him has been disintegrating for a long time. When he gobsmacks her with the news that he’s leaving her for another, younger woman who will give him the children he wants, Jodi is forced to face facts. In Chicago common-law marriages are not recognised when it comes to division of assets upon a relationship breakdown and Jodi stands to be left with nothing.
It was inevitable that this book would be compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and yes, there are similarities. There are also big differences. I’m not going to go down the comparison path – plenty of other reviewers have done so, so I probably won’t be adding anything new to that discussion. Instead, let me tell you my response to this book. Told in alternating her/him chapters for most of the book, the novel gives both sides of the story up to a point, but delves into Jodi’s backstory more than it does Todd’s. The almost nostalgic flashbacks to the beginning of the relationship are also from Jodi’s point of view. What this does is give insight into how both perceive and deal with their relationship: Todd comes across as a bit narcissistic and dramatic, while Jodi appears unshakeable and calm. She’s really rather passive aggressive, as the reader finds, taking small comfort in getting back at Todd by hiding his keys and so forth. Neither one is particularly likeable; Todd comes off worse, leading to greater sympathy for Jodi, despite what the reader already suspects she has done. The slow reveal of her backstory – something bad happening in her past, adds to this sympathetic atmosphere.
The story unfolds slowly, with a simmering tension building towards what is a rather unexpected twist. I don’t mind that. It seems more a more realistic portrayal of how relationships gradually crack and split. Tension comes in the form of wondering why things went the way they did, why Jodi was pushed to this point and how the reader feels about that … and then it comes in the form of that twist. What just happened here? I have to say I felt a bit disappointed by it in a way, almost as if it was a cop out. I’d be interested to hear what other readers think of that. But is this book a thriller? I would say no. A psychological suspense, yes, but not a thriller.
I get the feeling that the Gone Girl comparison will lead to disappointment for many readers. Likewise with marketing tags like “thriller”. Other readers will be turned off by the unlikeable characters and ask whether they care. What readers who give this a chance will get is the story of a marriage that has mouldered, a love that has withered and a narrative that focuses more on the inner thoughts of the characters than action and dialogue. For me, an average read, not “wow”, not “meh”.
Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. My copy was courtesy of Hachette.
Bookish treat: A moody, deep red wine would be the perfect complement for someone mulling over this book.