I try to avoid reading the books that everyone says I should be reading (not our books of the month, if anyone from Head Office is reading this, obvs, I read them if I can) or, if I do read them, I’m late to the party. I only read To Kill a Mockingbird after the publication of Go Set a Watchman was announced and I’ve still got to attempt any of the Game of Thrones books. I’m always saying ‘so many books, so little time’ but, if the truth is told, I’m just stubborn. I will read something if I want to read it not because everyone else is. And when I do get round to reading something like, say, Gone Girl everybody else has moved on. I mention this because there have been a lot of books recently marketed as ‘the new Gone Girl’ (or the new Game of Thrones, etc) and, it seems, a lot of reviewers are not happy about this. I mean, they are perfectly entitled to be unhappy, but I’m not sure why apart from the fact that they are a bit fed up of seeing the claim made quite so often…This is nothing new, of course, we’ve been using this kind of shorthand for years. The easiest way to describe something is to say what it resembles. The items most people best remember are the first ones that hit big (Gone Girl, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) – the ur-novels if you like.
The Widow is a debut novel which has been widely compared to Gone Girl and I can understand this comparison since it is a psychological novel largely written from the point of view of the women (mostly) involved in a criminal case. A young child goes missing and Glen Taylor is a suspect. His wife Jean supports him, the child’s mother will not rest until her child is found and the police officer and journalist who are most closely involved with the case are similarly dogged. We know a lot of what Jean knows – that her husband is interested in online pornography involving youngsters for example – but we can also see a lot of things she doesn’t. It was obvious to me that Jean is abused by her husband – not physically but psychologically. She is detached from her friends and family at a young age, her self-esteem is picked at constantly and she is made to feel that Glen’s online habits are her fault because she wants a child too much.
Other interesting points for me were the mother of the missing child and the journalist. Fiona Barton is a journalist herself so the press are given a better write-up than is usual – to be honest, from the few journalists I have ever met, I think this kinder view is fairly realistic of reporters on local papers at least – and the mother develops into quite a media-savvy woman, but with a persistent and ongoing belief that her child, against all the evidence, is still alive. The policeman is a little more formulaic but it seems to me that Barton’s real skill is in her female characters.
This is an enjoyable thriller in a genre that was hugely invigorated by Gone Girl. It doesn’t try to copy that book’s methods but seems to be developing one of its own – worth a read if you enjoy a complex plot and well-defined characters.