Friday 19 January 2018

Books: Rip-roaring read that'll keep you on your toes

The Widow, Fiona Barton, Bantam Press, €20

Fiona Barton, author of The Widow.
Fiona Barton, author of The Widow.

Anne Marie Scanlon

Since it began the 'Grip Lit' genre has been characterised by girls - they're gone, on trains and wearing red coats. It's a sign of the genre's growing maturity that The Widow is a grown woman.

Yet in many ways, Jeanie, the wife and widow of the title is still a girl. Jeanie married Glen aged 19 and has spent her life placating and deferring to her husband, who likes to be in control. And that was OK by Jeanie because "it felt so safe being loved by Glen."

But now that Glen has died Jeanie finds herself under press scrutiny because before his death Glen was accused and tried for the abduction of still missing 'Baby Bella'.

When the details of Glen's "hobby" and secret life are revealed at the trial Jeanie has suddenly to grow up and take a good look at the man she thought she knew, the man she sacrificed everything for - especially her desire for a child. Jeanie's certainty and safety are shattered. Glen's secrets have been exposed but Jeanie has a few of her own.

The Widow is a stunning debut by journalist Fiona Barton. Apart from being a classic page turner, The Widow has tapped into a perennial part of the public consciousness. For every married man tried in a court of law there's a woman being tried in the court of public opinion. "She must have known," is a common refrain. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was convicted in 1981 and Sonia Sutcliffe (his wife at the time) is still almost as infamous as he is despite the fact that she was never accused of a crime.

Barton has obviously done her research and doesn't hold back on the (often cynical) workings of the press, the police and even the public. "A neighbour tells a reporter that Glen had 'evil eyes'. He had nice eyes actually," Jeanie muses.

The Widow is also an accurate portrayal of denial and delusion and the lies people tell themselves. The story unfolds via different narrators and evolves over separate timelines - prior to and after Glen's death. There are plenty of twists along the way. I read it twice and even the second time round, knowing what was going to happen, I still couldn't put it down. I can't wait for Barton's next book.

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