Book review: The Watchful Wife by Suzanne Leal

Friday, July 7, 2023 Permalink

The Watchful Wife is the latest new release by Australian author Suzanne Leal. She tends to tackle complex social themes in her novels, touching here again on some featured in her first novel, The Teacher’s Secret – around the education system and allegations of misconduct – and that of religion, which featured in her second novel Deceptions. I very much enjoyed this book which takes on the sensitive topic of sexual misconduct but predominantly from the point of view of the wife of a man accused.

Book review: The Watchful Wife by Suzanne LealThe Watchful Wife
by Suzanne Leal
Published by Allen & Unwin AU, Allen and Unwin
on 04/07/2023
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: General Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 176106777X
Pages: 368

Raised by her severe parents in a punitive and authoritarian church, Ellen's narrow world is upended when she meets Gordon, a fellow teacher. Responding to his interest with curiosity and, before long, pleasure, Ellen is both transformed and beguiled by the connection, love and laughter he brings into her life.

Three years later, a knock on the door changes everything. Two police officers have come to accuse Gordon of a shocking crime. Abandoned and reviled by those around her, Ellen steadfastly refuses to believe Gordon has done anything wrong. In a world of swirling suspicion, however, she will have to fight to protect him.

But what will that cost her? And what will she discover about him along the way?

The book opens with a visit from the police to Ellen and Gordon in the present but then we go back in time to a young Ellen and learn how the pair came to meet. It also gives readers the opportunity to get to know Ellen and I liked the depth and complexity Leal adds here by giving Ellen a strict religious upbringing. It provides layered insight into the mind of a girl, then woman grappling with thoughts, opinions and feelings that are in conflict with all she has ever known. There’s no stereotypical enlightenment here either as Leal deftly handles young Ellen’s introduction to a world outside of the bible and her family and church’s beliefs.

We spend quite a bit of time in the past (as well as the recent past) but I liked the pacing when we return to the present and Ellen watches on as her husband is arrested and faces the court. The events are neither laborious or rushed but Leal moves us through several big changes at a pace that gives readers time to absorb what’s happening but keeps the momentum.

I also appreciated that she visits the he said/she said element with Ellen’s open mind. She believes her husband is innocent, but also believes his accuser would have no reason to lie… despite knowing both cannot be true. Perhaps it’s the remnants 0f Ellen’s blind faith (that of the religious kind) that puts her in this difficult position. And perhaps there are lessons here for others.

And finally I liked where Leal ultimately takes this and does so without demonising anyone. Well, anyone that doesn’t deserve it.

The Watchful Wife by Suzanne Leal was published by Allen & Unwin in early July 2023.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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