Review: Fiona Barton’s ‘The Widow’ [2016]

Greetings bloggers! Before I get started on this review I just want to give you all the heads up about the next month or two – I am starting my internship with Cancer Research UK on Monday, so I might not be around too much! It’s only standard working hours but I am moving around a lot between different relatives and friends for the duration so that I can commute into London, and I also want to sign up for as many of the extra social activities, training opportunities etc as possible to make a good impression! I’ll still be reading (the one bonus of a long commute) but I might be a bit slow getting my thoughts down into type, so bear with me!

The widow

I have been getting really into my creepy, psychological novels recently so I was really excited to take a crack at Fiona Barton’s ‘The Widow’. I picked it up in Waterstones expecting it to be similar to my recently reviewed ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ but I have to say, ‘The Widow’ far surpassed those expectations. I thought it was written brilliantly and the similar genre of psychological thriller is taken to a completely different level.

One of the main attributes of this novel that I enjoyed was the unique viewpoint. The experience of the spouse of someone who is accused of paedophilia or murder is not one you often think about, and this is what really drew me into buying ‘The Widow’ because it is a fresh approach to a topic that can sometimes be used purely for a bit of ‘shock factor’, without being truly understood or well handled. Being able to see the story from a different point of view made the novel far more interesting, and with the use of alternating narrators we get a far deeper insight and more well-rounded view of the characters – Kate’s view of Jean versus Jean’s perception of herself, and Jean’s view of Dawn, for example. This also means that we can see the different people and roles that are involved in such a horrifying event and the ensuing investigation, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the work of journalists such as Kate, trying to get interviews with people like Jean and tackle really difficult subjects.

As we begin to unravel Jean Taylor’s story, the novel just gets more and more interesting and when new things are revealed we start to question the reliability of the narrator. Jean knows more than we think she does, and her own psychological struggles begin to be unearthed. Her warped view of Bella’s mother really exposes this, and I loved the glimpse of her twisted perception.

However, the main struggle of this novel was that the widow was a massively irritating character to read a lot of the time. She was very whiny and self-absorbed, and whilst I appreciate that it was part of her psychology to act in that way it got a bit much to read from her perspective and really started to grate on the enjoyment of reading. Couple Jean with Detective Bob the woman hater and I was starting to hate most people featured in ‘The Widow’. By contrast, Kate was a strong and likeable character with a wry sense of humour and I wish more could have been seen of her life and experiences. Glen himself was written well; we don’t see anything from his viewpoint but Jean’s descriptions of him are very clever in how they show his manipulative side.

For a debut novel ‘The Widow’ is in my eyes a complete success. Despite some of my misgivings about the characters, the sinister undercurrent is unmistakeable and exactly what I love in a novel.  There was no gob-smacking twist that smacked you around the back of the head at the end, but I can forgive that. This couple are far too creepy for it to not have been the ending we were expecting and the plot would have been rendered almost entirely irrelevant if Barton took it in a different direction.

Have you read ‘The Widow’? What did you think?

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