The Widow by Fiona Barton – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
The Widow has been heralded as the stand-out psychological thriller for 2016 in the same vein as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train and while it may not be as accomplished as either of those two titles, it is an unusual and gripping story that is well worth listening to. It is the first novel of Fiona Barton, a journalist who worked with a number of British newspapers, and she tells in the prologue how her reporting of some criminal trials acted as the inspiration for this novel. She talks of the wives and partners of the accused who sat quietly during the trial, listening at times to horrendous details of the crimes committed, and she wondered how they coped with their relationships and their lives once the trial was over.
Her story centres on Jean Taylor, an ordinary, suburban hairdresser whose husband, Glen, is accused of committing a terrible crime, the kidnap and murder of a young child.. The book begins, as the title indicates, with Glen’s death and Jean, now a widow and the renewed focus of public attention, being pursued and hounded by the media to get her version of her life with Glen. The Widow is relayed from multiple standpoints. Jean’s story is told in the first person and dominates the book but we also see the perspectives of reporter, Kate Waters, of the dead child’s mother, of the detective investigating the crime and of Glen himself.
All of the characters are flawed and Barton’s talent is to make us question their versions of events and to create a constantly changing atmosphere where it is difficult to distinguish between innocence and guilt. The Jean we meet at the beginning of the novel is portrayed as a victim, dominated by an assertive husband and isolated in her daily life. However, as the story develops, we realise that the truth is, in fact, far more complex and we see sides of her personality that put a completely different tint on her situation.
The predatory role of the press, seeking only to sensationalise Jean’s story and trying constantly to take advantage of her perceived gullibility, is sobering and we learn from the author, in an interview at the end of the audiobook, that this is very much her lived experience of that world. The symbiotic, and sometimes questionable, relationship between the press and the police is well explored though the leading detective, Bob Sparkes, is presented as a conscientious policeman whose life is put on hold by this unsolved crime.
Barton delineates her characters clearly and this is further underlined by the excellent reading of Clare Corbett. She captures the initial fragility of Jean and her growing awareness of the fact the she is now free and can take control of her situation. The final chapter of the book is at once pathetic and chilling. As a first novel this is more than promising and deserves success.
The audiobook lasts 10h28mins (including the interview with Barton) and is available from audible.co.uk.