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.