"My Husband's Wife" Jane Corry
This book opens with a murder and then goes back in time by 15 years to introduce Lily, a 25 year old newly qualified lawyer, just back from her honeymoon with her new husband, artist Ed. The novel then continues with a story of secret, lies, revenge and murder told through the viewpoints of Lily and Carla - a young daughter from the neighbouring flat.
This opening section where the reader is presented with a situation then the story jumps back to another point in time, or another character's narrative, sets the precedent for the way the novel proceeds. Corry has a great talent for making a throwaway comment, dropping in a sudden clue, raising a half thought (or half answer!) and then leaving the reader dangling as she charges ahead with another part of the multilayered plot. This is such an effective technique and it totally ensured that I kept reading - rapidly! - all the way through the 528 pages of this debut thriller. The opening murder scene remains a mystery until almost the very last pages. The reader frequently thinks they may have solved the crime but then there will be another twist and you will find yourself having to re-evaluate all you thought about the characters.
The thing I enjoyed most about this novel was the creation of atmosphere and suspense. So many of the sentences have double meanings and I was never sure in which way I needed to interpret them. For example, in the first chapter, Lily announces "On my first day back from our honeymoon, I'm preparing to go to prison." Immediately the reader is full of questions. And even when these questions are answered, sometimes showing our worst conclusion to be way off line, Corry has still laid the foundations of a sense of foreboding, crime, danger, unfamiliarity. The mere repetition of "new" and all the new starts Lily is facing on her first day back - new job, new flat, new husband, new marriage - creates a sense of nervousness or unfamiliarity. Lily seems unsure of life and there is an implicit sense that things are not secure or strong - there is a definite sense that something will go wrong -that this marriage may be more fragile than Lily wants it to be. The description of "his taste of toothpaste that I haven't got used to", checking the lock on the door as "it's new to us both" and the sense of this couple entering new territory together raises real intrigue. Then Lily says "Two lies. Small white ones. Designed to make the other feel better. But that's how some lies start. Small. Well meaning. Until they get too big too handle." A fantastic opening. Already, the reader is posed for a story of lies and deceit.
Lily is a great character. I never quite knew how to feel about her. When she first meets the young Clara she says "It occurs to me that it would be very easy to take a child if the circumstances were favourable." And then later she comments, "How easy it would have been to let Ed choke to death. To pretend it was an accident." Corry is brilliant at these kind of statements and it means I never quite knew where I stood with Lily. Yes, she's a great lawyer, professional, diligent, seemingly ethical and honest yet......do we really know what she is capable of? She is also hiding a deep secret from her husband (and the reader!) and the mystery of her back story certainly left me wondering what she might have done or how she might be connected with the murder from the first page. For example, a couple of times she nearly "confesses" to Ed but reminds herself that if she does confess to whatever it is she is hiding, she will lose him forever. Is she guilty of something? What is so dreadful that she can't tell her husband? This is a book where you are empathetic and yet suspicious of the protagonist both at the same time!
Although Lily is really the main character, it is Carla who surely steals the show. Introduced as a solitary, odd, friendless 9 year old who craves attention from anyone as her mother frequently abandons her to spend time with her boyfriend, she then grows into a wonderfully manipulative, calculating, dedicated, vengeful young woman. Again, she is difficult to empathise with as she is at times quite unpleasant, even when the circumstances are pitiful. I found her captivating; a real study of the psychology of a young girl who isn't likeable, but is a product of circumstances of which you can be understanding and sympathetic, and how this affects the adult she becomes - how events from her childhood completely control her future.
I really wanted to see how the two story lines would become linked and what exactly would connect these two women. Part One ends with shattering revelations, lots of loose ends and many questions. There is a precarious sense of uncertainty and unease.
Part Two is 12 years later and Clara is now 23, returning to London from Italy. A clear agenda and purpose in mind. I liked Corry's way of listing "Sugar? Sellotape? Sharp implements? Crisps?" every time Lily enters a prison or police station. I felt so often that Corry was throwing me clues, or burying me deeper in secrets, and I never knew quite how to use the information I had been given. Every time I thought I had it figured out, something would happen leaving me unsure what to make of Lily and Clara yet again. This is shows real skill from the writer and an exceptional control over the structure and narrative. As Lily says "If....If.....If....." Who is telling the truth? Who has the biggest motive? Who is the better actress? Who can you trust?
This is a bit of a slow burner of a thriller if that's not too much of an oxymoron! There are cliffhangers, many moments of suspense and surprising revelations and the book moves at a reasonable pace, assisted with the alternating chapters from Lily and Clara. But there are several complex threads of story to follow. Each character has their own back story, motive and secret and all of these need resolution. The plots intertwine effectively but it is quite complex and these are fully developed characters with hidden depths.
I really wanted to finish reading this book because I just couldn't fill in all the blanks and I wanted to know what the truth behind the opening murder really was. I wanted to find out the truth behind the husband, the wife and the husband's wife. You will too. And you won't be disappointed by this intriguing novel of successive twists which span 15 years of secrets and revenge.
My thanks to NetGalley for an advanced review copy of this book.
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