“He wasn’t there to provide for her anymore. Or to stop her talking.”

Barton’s ‘The Widow’ tells the tale of Jean Taylor and husband Glen. He is the accused, and she is the loyal wife, quiet at his side as his name is tarnished and reputation sullied. Until, that is, the day she finds herself alone. With Glen gone, suddenly it’s her turn in the spotlight, and all those unanswered questions from the past are back and knocking on the door.

(This review may contain spoilers.)

(Major plot spoilers and the ending aren’t mentioned though.)

(Still not sure if you should read on? In that case, read the book then get back to me.)

 

The Widow
Fiona Barton’s ‘The Widow’

Having recently started on the ‘Thrillers, Crime Fiction & Mystery Novels’ shelf of my reading list (not sure what I’m talking about? Read my last post here: A Personal Tale of Bibliophilia), I thought I would make ‘The Widow’ my next read. And boy am I glad I did.

Initially from Jean Taylor’s point of view, the story begins by detailing the arrival of someone at the house, and the interaction that follows. This first person narration not only works to recount events as they occur, but also provides us with a personal insight into The Widow, as she peppers her storytelling with thought and anecdote. The picture that builds is of a woman who finds herself somewhat at a loss as her very existence seems to have been dependent on that of her husband:

“I’m not sure if I want her here or not – not sure how I feel … It’s quite nice really, to have someone in charge of me again.”

Alongside this seemingly helpless state though, Barton manages to weave darker underlying nuances of derision into her narrative, hinting that though Jean Taylor may have led a submissive life, her relationship with her husband is far more complex than first meets the eye. And it is this relationship that the book goes on to explore. Was Jean Taylor an innocent in the game her husband was accused of playing? Or is her vulnerability a facade, hiding the master puppeteer who’s been pulling the strings all along?

Determined to find the truth, and uncover what really happened, the reader is introduced to two more characters – The Reporter and The Detective. Though their approaches vary, both tirelessly search for answers as news first breaks, and then quickly gathers momentum. It is with this introduction that Barton also changes perspective, allowing both The Reporter and The Detective to try their hand at storytelling. For those expecting a straightforward narrative though, this adds a level of complexity to the plot as the reader is provided with snapshot after snapshot, each varying angle someone different behind the lens. And as Barton also jumps both forwards and backwards in time, a linear narrative is not on the cards either; the reader is either left floundering, or has to focus on chapter subheadings to keep up with the tale.

Why do I mention this? Because if, like me, you always jump to the body of a chapter, ignoring dates and subheadings, fairly soon you too will be amongst the floundering. But the story is too intriguing not to train yourself to actually read the subheadings, and once you do, Barton’s use of changing perspectives becomes clear.

The slow construction and reconstruction of events as they unfold not only provides the reader with a more holistic account of moments lived and passed, but the absence of a single linear narrative means we too are left searching for answers. As new evidence comes to light, we see the impact it has from more than one perspective. Intermittent snapshots from the future introduce new stories whilst pausing case developments from the past. All this allows the mind time to work through the intricacies of the plot, enabling the reader to unpick and discover for themselves, and therein lies Barton’s success.

There is enough misdirection in ‘The Widow’ that knowing for certain who is guilty does not become possible until a good way into the novel. And even then, unanswered questions remain as late as the last chapter. But guess what? That’s exactly what makes it worth it.

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