Review: Fiona Barton – The Widow

518GwIpuzML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Widow is a book everyone’s been talking about this year. It seems to have divided some readers but I found it to be an engrossing read with a slightly old-fashioned feel which I liked. I met its author, Fiona Barton, at a recent event and she spoke eloquently about how she came to publish this, her debut novel. The plot has a deceptively simple premise: a woman whose dead husband is believed to be a child murderer is now able to speak out to the press about the accusations levelled against him. How much does she know and does she believe in his guilt?

The book has a split narrative. Jean is the wife of Glen a delivery driver who police believe is responsible for the kidnapping of two year-old Bella. Now that he is dead, she is persuaded to tell her side of the story to a newspaper. Reporter Kate Waters is adept at getting her interviewees to reveal more than they expected but Jean is a complex character who has buried the truth deep down within her. The reader is also introduced to detective Bob Sparkes who has led the investigation into Bella’s disappearance. His inability to find her, dead or alive, has meant him being sidelined in his job and pilloried by the press.

The Widow is one of those rare books where I enjoyed each narrative voice equally. I think this was largely because of the strength of characterisation of Kate, the intrepid reporter. Fiona Barton has worked as a journalist on national newspapers and clearly has a in-depth knowledge of the industry. Kate is portrayed as both determined and compassionate with a sceptical view of Jean’s story. Jean is a woman from a different generation. She has come depend on Glenn completely and believes his excuses. Or so it seems. For Jean also has hidden depths to her.

It was a certainly a page-turning read. There’s something compulsive about Jean’s blindness to Glenn’s activities and we, as readers, are desperate to know what happened to Bella. It’s a horrible subject matter but Barton doesn’t go into unnecessary detail. A book that, for me, lived up to the hype.


39 thoughts on “Review: Fiona Barton – The Widow

  1. Have you noticed that there is almost a trend now for the split narrative, the two different voices? I haven’t read The Widow yet but you seem to imply that it was justified in this book and enjoyable, but in others it feels pointless or manipulative.


    1. Yes, although I have to admit I do that myself in my writing. In The Widow, I thought the journalist voice to be very good. I can understand why you feel manipulated sometimes though, especially with an unreliable narrator.


  2. Margot Kinberg

    I do keep hearing great things about this one, Sarah. Like Bernadette, I am very wary of hype, but this does sound appealing. And I like the fact that the different voices in the book all ring true, if I can put it that way.


  3. Karen

    I just finished reading this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t mind the split narrative especially when, as was the case here, the narrators are reliable. As I got close to the end of the book & questions remained, I was so nervous that they wouldn’t be answered! Ambiguous endings are my pet peeve, thankfully that wasn’t the case here!


  4. The Widow is on my TBR. I have been dying to read it but earlier engagement prevented me from reading it sooner. Seven more days and I’ll finally start it!
    Great review 🙂 There was some hype indeed but so far all the reviews I’ve read agreed to say it was worth it.



    Hi Sarah! I really, REALLY liked The Widow. I felt the writing was so strong, and as a reader I was truly captivated. One of those delicious weekends where I did not put that book down, and binged the whole thing in one. I think Fiona Barton is a major talent to watch for, this for me was a great book.


  6. I thought this was a very good book, Sarah, engrossing and clever and very accomplished. I read a comment that the Widow herself was too old a character for her actual age, and there may be something in that. But overall very enjoyable.


  7. kathy d.

    Oh, brother, is this ever a complicated book and so was my reaction. I think Fiona Barton did an excellent job, especially since this is her debut novel. I could not put the book down — and while I was nervous about anything like this, I thought it much better than The Girl on the Train, where the three unreliable voices were indistinguishable. Here, the characters have different voices and personalities.
    My favorite character was the detective. He was smart and steady and had only one goal: to find the murderer no matter what it took.
    But the book was disturbing. I spent a week after I finished it wondering how women who suspect their spouses of horrible crimes live with them. What kind of denial are they in? What type of fantasies do they imagine to justify staying with their partners? At what point does a suspicious spouse tell the authorities of their suspicions? Where does one draw the line? When she sees the computer images and her spouse lies to her, why does she accept what he said? Wasn’t that a telltale clue about him? And if she bought his lies, why did she? Was she so submissive, docile and obedient that she’d believe anything?
    I thought of a friend’s sister-in-law whose spouse issued commands to her to get him things and she did it and had to lock herself in the bathroom to read a book. She did what he told her to do. Where would she have drawn the line?
    And I thought of real women who have found out when their spouses were arrested for awful crimes (or seen on TV news) and they had no suspicions — but immediately filed for divorce when the truth came out.
    I brought this up with friends, all of the dilemmas in this book.
    I’m sure Fiona Barton is a smart, interesting person and will read her future books.


    1. Thanks for the comment. To be honest, I really enjoyed The Girl on the Train as well. The detective was your favourite character, was she? That’s interesting. I think the journalist was mine. It does make you think how much you would put up from your partner. It’s difficult to put yourself in their shoes but a fascinating subject to discuss.


  8. Kathy. P

    I would hate to be in a situation of suspecting someone close to me that could have something so awful. I suspect in reality it happens more than we realise. The Widow sounds like a very interesting book which will be put on my list TBR 👓.


  9. kathy d.

    Reality check: Maybe because I live in New York City there is shocking news, of a woman whose husband was the CEO of a big fast food chain here. He was arrested and convicted of running a child pornography ring from his computer. His spouse said she had no idea and filed for divorce the day after his indictment. Did she really not suspect anything?
    Or the woman who watched local news of a man going through a building lobby and up a flight of stairs — and he was accused of raping a woman in the building. She recognized him on the news and turned him in and then filed for divorce. Said she was shocked at his behavior.
    So, how well do some criminals hide their behavior from their families? Do women use denial or just ignore what they can’t explain? Or are their spouses that good at secrecy in their crimes? It comes up here fairly
    often and I think about it, so the book just made me think more about this.


    1. I think criminals can be very devious and I do believe that a spouse can have her suspicions that someone is secretive but not know the reasons why.


  10. Will admit to always being in two minds about this kind of book as it has to be really worthwhile for me to pick up a story about children in jeopardy. Glad to hear you thought so much of it – I would probably want to know upfront what happened to the child, but obviously that is just a personal feeling. I’ve read too many books where it just got grim and depressing without my feeling that it was even remotely worthwhile. By the same token, to take such a serious theme and not treat it truthfully would make it unreadable to me.


    1. Thanks Sergio. I understand about the difficulties of reading about missing children. It does need to be done with sensitivity. I liked the angle from the other side. How unsuspecting are those close to perpetrators? I do understand the book isn’t for everyone though.


      1. I found it much easier to deal with Highsmith’s oblique approach in A DOG’S RANSOM, which is really horrible in lots of other ways but which, by using a child substitute (as it were) I found much easier to get on board with (no danger to animals is actively depicted either, thankfully). But that’s just me …


          1. It always makes me smile when you run against this in a movie – you can kills dozens of people and the audience will probably still forgive you (if you’re James Bond or Buffy, say) but kill a dog and you can only be a villain from the on


  11. kathy d.

    Well, not too much is described about the crime against the child, but it’s always in the reader’s mind and was always lurking in mine — uncomfortably.
    So I thought a lot about what a spouse thinks, about extreme denial, about submissiveness of a woman when her husband says he won’t discuss something, etc. And about what story she concocts about her suspicions.
    A tough book but worth reading, I think.
    But I won’t be reading one like it for awhile, not involving children.


  12. Pingback: Review: THE WIDOW by Fiona Barton | Reactions to Reading

  13. tracybham

    Well, this has reminded me how bad my memory is (or how books I read about) because I had forgotten that I had read about this at Moira’s blog until I saw her comment. The book sounds good, I like two narrative voices, although I would normally avoid the subject of an abducted child. All the comments confirm that this book must actually live up to its hype.


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