THE HUSBAND’S SECRET
Author: Liane Moriarty
Pan Macmillan RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
It was all because of Twitter. A simple tweet: “I would suggest, bump this one up the pile”. This one being The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. I looked at the tweet and then at my sagging bookshelf. I really wanted to act on the advice and bump this book straight into my
grasping waiting hands (and discover the secret) … but, would that be fair? I mean, some of the other books were here first … I held the book, willing myself to wait. But thanks to Twitter, it was too late. The thought was in my mind and that was it. I simply had to read The Husband’s Secret now. As it turned out, it was good advice – I started my week-long holiday with a fantastic read … and if it wasn’t for that tweet, the book would still be waiting its turn.
What would you do if you found a letter addressed to you with the words: “To be opened in the event of my death”? If the writer was still alive, would you open it? Would you be able to put it in a safe place and forget about it? Or would its existence gnaw at you, an itch craving release? That’s the dilemma Cecilia faces when she discovers a letter from her husband, John-Paul, in their attic. To the other mothers at her children’s Catholic primary school, Cecilia is the envied “I don’t know how she does it” woman; finding this letter puts a dent in that facade – her thoughts drift more and more to this letter until finally, curiosity wins out. What she reads is profoundly shocking; it hits her like a physical blow, crumpling her veneer of organisation and perfection, and revealing a scared and confused woman. Now that she knows the secret, she has to decide to do with it. Doing something will tear her family apart … but will keeping her husband’s secret tear their marriage apart? Will it poison her, the way the secret, she finds, has poisoned her husband’s mind? Sometimes knowing a secret can be worse than not knowing.
Two other women are grappling with secrets and their stories slowly fit together with Cecilia’s like a jigsaw taking shape. Tess moves back to her mother’s house in Sydney when her husband Will announces he’s in love with her best friend and cousin Felicity. How did they fall for each other without Tess noticing? How did they keep that a secret? While Tess struggles to make sense of this, she meets an old flame, Conner, and begins a passionate affair with him. When her husband wants to try to work things out, Tess has a secret of her own. The third woman, Rachel, is consumed by grief and anger at the loss of her daughter twenty years earlier. She never found out what happened to Janie, but there’s something about Conner that makes her uneasy. He knew Janie all those years ago and when Rachel finds a videotape linking the two, she is convinced that he’s responsible for her daughter’s death. Is bitterness and pain clouding her mind? Or is Conner hiding something, too?
There are so many secrets about our lives that we’ll never know.
We never really know anyone completely, do we? We never really know “what if”? Moriarty explores this age-old question masterfully in this character-driven novel that effortlessly blends high tension with everyday moments. At first I wondered how the women were all connected, but I needn’t have doubted – the pieces of the puzzle, apparently unconnected, all came together to form a whole. The secret is revealed about a third of the way through and the focus shifts away from the question of opening the letter to potentially explosive and life-changing impact. Even if the secret stays between Cecilia and John-Paul, the reader is painfully aware that it will eat at their marriage; their life will change even if they try to hide. One of the things I really liked about this novel was the tension created for the reader – as the characters stumble towards discovery, decisions and justifications, the reader is trying to second guess their moves, motives and place themselves in those same situations.
You’re a mother. You’d do anything for your children, just like I’d do anything for mine.
Moriarty’s characters are everyday women. They’re the women living in our suburbs (maybe a little more affluent, but not overtly so), the women in That’s Life magazines (‘My daughter died and I know her killer’ or ‘My husband wants me to open this letter after he’s dead‘), the women we see at the school gate nudging their children into school. In this case, the three main characters are also mothers – one is a grandmother. Although “secrets” is the overt theme, underpinning this is an equally strong theme of motherhood/mothering. Moriarty explores a variety of relationships between the mother and another person, be it a son, daughter, daughter or son-in-law, grandchild, or even another mother. What comes across strongly is the protectiveness a mother feels towards her child – it’s a feeling I can most definitely relate to. I admire how Moriarty examines this aspect of the female experience in a way that is authentic, heartfelt and perceptive. One relationship that stood out is that between Rachel and her son Rob, although this is really a small part of the story. Rachel adores her grandson, Jacob, (in her words, he makes life “endurable” and the thought of losing him like she did Janie) is unbearable) – she has transferred her reason for living onto Jacob. And yet, her son, Rob has always been there in the background, waiting for her to notice him, to live for him. I wanted her to notice Rob and when she did (sorry, tiny spoiler there), I was happy. It made sense.
The Husband’s Secret is the second Moriarty book I have read – I read Three Wishes about a year ago and I remember liking it. The Husband’s Secret for me, goes beyond “liked” it. I loved it. The pages turned as if they were in charge, not me. I had a hard time putting the book down because I became so engrossed in the narrative. It wasn’t just the plot that was compelling. It was Moriarty’s writing – brimming with intelligence and perception. She has a self-deprecating style, a wit that I can’t quite define, but I understand. She knows when to inject that wit and when to hold back and let poignancy replace humour. I can’t put it better than that right now. One other thing: sometimes I find that epilogues are too neat, almost a lazy way of tying up loose ends or a Where Are They Now story, yet the epilogue in this book worked. It tapped right into the “what if” part of my brain and left me wondering long after I’d closed the book. Clever.
This book was definitely worth bumping up the list! A brilliant read, one that I’ll come back to again. Liane, I hope you won’t make us wait too long for another one.
This book is available from Pan Macmillan Australia. This advance copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.
Bookish treat: You’ll be so engrossed, I suggest you pack a ration kit before you start reading. Mine consists of chocolate. And hot chocolate.