This book was a surprise. I’d had it for a while but it’d come while I was overseas and so only got around to reading it over a month after it was actually published. There was something familiar about the blurb and I felt like I’d read something on a similar theme last year though only The Wife Between Us comes to mind. I must admit, from the blurb, I expected this to be a tad predictable – but it certainly wasn’t. In fact, for the most part it was highly addictive.
Caroline Atkinson is powerless and angry. She has lost more than most - her marriage, her reputation, even her children. Then one day, she receives an unusual delivery: lost luggage belonging to the very man who is responsible, her estranged husband Jack.
In a leather holdall, Caroline unearths a dark secret, one that finally confirms her worst suspicions. Jack has kept a detailed diary of all his affairs; every name, every meeting, every lie is recorded. He even marks the women out of ten.
Caroline decides it's time to even the score. She will make this man pay, even if it means risking everything...
When we meet Caroline (Caro) she and Jack have been divorced for a year. It didn’t end well and we soon learn that he ‘gas-lighted’ her a lot and then (when she was her own worst enemy) suggested she was mentally unstable and got custody of their two children.
The book opens when Jack’s luggage is accidentally delivered to Caro at their old address. We learn fairly quickly that she’s been on a downhill slide since their marriage ended and spends her life as a functional alcoholic. High-achieving doctorate-holding psychology researcher during the day, who drinks herself silly at night; ultimately spending the evening buying unwanted items from shopping channels (the unopened boxes filling her rooms) or going out and picking up men and returning to their hotel rooms with them.
The book’s written from Caro’s point-of-view and in first person so we’re in her head and it’s an interesting place. We’re privy to the (ahem) journal Jack’s kept over the years and the crappy stuff he’s done. Cleverly though the author, Jacqueline Ward, keeps us away from Jack’s point-of-view and his thoughts, which are only shared via ranting phone calls from his mother (aptly named Missy) and DS Percy, who’s investigating Jack’s claims that his wife is harassing him (and his ex-lovers).
And I guess that’s why I thought this would be predictable. Jack’s a shit and poor old Caro’s been depicted as the nutty wife who won’t accept their marriage is ended.
However… Caro’s quite devious. And perhaps a bit irrational in an obsessive, vengeful kind of way. And I think this is where this book steps up a notch. Caro’s not dumb. Although she has to deny she’s accessed her husband’s journal she plans on using its contents to ruin his reputation in the way he ruined hers – all without being the obvious suspect.
So… thank god for social media and fake Facebook accounts and those who keep illicit (and explicit) photos of their cheating exploits.
Caro tells the Detective (and us) that all she wants to do is get her kids back… but there’s a disturbing sense that there’s still a connection to Jack DESPITE everything. And that in itself (and his ability to manipulate women – as Caro meets other lovers/victims) is very interesting. Caro’s hellbent on exposing these women who slept with her husband while they knew he was married but perhaps it’s not that simple and they’re not all as duplicitous and devious as she thinks.
And then there’s Caro’s own behaviour and her ‘in between time’ – as she calls it – when out drinking. The fact she remembers little about what she’s done and is, in some ways, on an incredibly self-destructive course though knows better, means her own motivation(s) and sanity come into question.
This was much twistier than I imagined. There’s an obvious underlying moral or ethical dilemma at play. Even DS Percy has to ponder if it’s okay for someone to do the wrong thing for the right reason. And vice versa. And then there are secrets and lies. The ones we tell others and ones we tell ourselves.
I should also mention this book could be triggering for some people as there’s also a strong theme of domestic violence via emotional manipulation – the mind-games, abuse and isolation – and I understand Ward herself is a psychologist so explores this topic with deft expertise.
This is Ward’s debut novel so I very much look forward to what she writes next.
Perfect Ten by Jacqueline Ward was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.