Christian’s White’s The Nowhere Child was extremely well received when released in 2018. I didn’t read it at the time and heard White speak about it at the BAD Sydney Crime Writers’ Festival in early September. I liked the premise so decided I’d buy a copy there.
Then however White commented on the fact he’d set it in a certain place in America as it was the only place they still trained snake charmers (or something). I asked someone if snakes really did feature in the novel. They laughed when I said I was phobic, but it seriously turned me off reading it. Though I’m sure I would have enjoyed it.
His second novel, The Wife and the Widow offers no snakes. It’s extremely twisty though and has a mid-way surprise to rival that of Clare Mackintosh’s fabulous I Let You Go.
The Wife and the Widow
by Christian White
Published by Affirm Press
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Set against the backdrop of an eerie island town in the dead of winter, The Wife and The Widow is an unsettling thriller told from two perspectives: Kate, a widow whose grief is compounded by what she learns about her dead husband’s secret life; and Abby, an island local whose world is turned upside when she’s forced to confront the evidence of her husband’s guilt.
But nothing on this island is quite as it seems, and only when these women come together can they discover the whole story about the men in their lives. Brilliant and beguiling, The Wife and The Widow takes you to a cliff edge and asks the question: how well do we really know the people we love?
Kate decides to surprise her husband John on his arrival home from a business trip to England. But she and her daughter wait fruitlessly at the airport. It’s only then she discovers his life kinda fell apart months earlier and she realises she did not notice.
In an attempt to find him, she and her father-in-law travel to Belport Island, where the family has a holiday house. They’re greeted by tragedy however and struggle to understand how John came to be on the island and what exactly happened after his arrival.
We also meet Abby, a mother of two teens who works at the supermarket on Belport Island. Her husband Ray does maintenance work for locals but (like many who live on the island) their livelihood depends on the wealthy out-of-town visitors during the holiday season. Like Kate, Abby soon discovers her husband is keeping secrets and suddenly she’s confronted with behaviour (and anger) she can’t fathom.
In a video on the publisher’s website White mentions that he wanted to write something that posed the question… how well do we know those we love? I was intrigued. I often read books about those living double lives but this is more about secrets and things we don’t, or can’t, share.
Through her gruff and exacting father-in-law Kate learns of her husband’s teenage angst and wonders if it relates to his decision to come to the island.
Interestingly, in the early part of the novel Kate’s own persona and identity is challenged and she realises she’s been playing the role of dutiful wife and mother and it’s not really who she is. It takes the events here to draw her out of that faux comfort zone and remind her of her own strength.
When I borrowed this book from a friend she mentioned the twist mid-way through. She said it would have me going back and re-reading stuff to see what I’d missed. And that was kinda true. It’s almost like we don’t trust White’s cleverness and the way we’ve been duped. It is certainly a flabbergasting turn of events though and I certainly didn’t see it coming though I was waiting and watching suspiciously.
Of course things then take a very different direction. Like Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, the strength of the book is very much in the plot and its cleverness – the way we’re led astray so easily; the way we’re so easily lulled into the assumptions we make.
I very much enjoyed this novel, and White’s definitely not fallen into the dreaded second book syndrome, as this is a powerful and addictive read.
Meanwhile… I guess I’d still like to read The Nowhere Child at some point. Despite the snakes.
The Wife and the Widow by Christian White was published in Australia by Affirm Press and is now available.