Holiday reading: The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty and Daughter, Jane Shemilt

husband's secret daughter

When I finished my English degree, my urge to pick up a book dropped ten-fold, particularly as I felt the pressure to continue with classics and intellectually stimulating literature when all I wanted to do was curl up with Netflix and a glass of wine. Last year I vowed to change this, and to make a good start asked everyone for some good ‘easy-reading’ books for Christmas. Admittedly I started off with the Goldfinch in January, which was amazing of course, but pretty long and intense.

These two books were my ‘summer reads’ and much to my delight fell right into the category of unputdownable, which is exactly what I was looking for. I whizzed through both of them and they’ve convinced me to keep with this style of book (not epic literature, but gripping, readable and enjoyable) for a while to get me back into reading frequently again – I’ve missed it much more than I realised!

The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty

Blurb segment Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic. Written in her husband’s hand, it says: to be opened only in the event of my death.

Curious, she opens it – and time stops.

John-Paul’s letter confesses to a terrible mistake which, if revealed, would wreck their family as well as the lives of others.

Review I started reading this in Croatia and had finished it by the time I left – it was a great summer holiday book. I loved Cecilia, the main character, instantly. Her narrative is bubbly and open – the reader feels as if they are a best friend settling down with a cup of tea, listening to her thoughts as she bustles round the kitchen. You also get to see her character from another’s perspective, when Tess’s story is introduced, and runs parallel to Cecilia’s. I do like books with jumps in narrative, but have read a few which go overboard with this style which become an effort to keep up with (A week in December by Sebastian Faulks, for example, and even Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell to a certain extent). However, Moriarty plays it well and whilst it feels quite natural it also adds suspense, jumping at the moment when you think something important is about to happen.

Moriarty sets up her characters with intimacy, which made me feel all the more invested in that unopened letter that Cecilia has in the back of her mind. I mused with her about what could be in it, each idea more irrational than the last. I feel like it did take slightly too long to get to the big reveal, as unfortunately I’d figured out what it was just before Cecilia caved which I think in part took away from the shock factor. However that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the story for too long, and I remained gripped right until the end. I think the thing I ended up admiring the most about this book was the way in which Moriarty successfully showed that none of us, not even the organised and together Cecilia (and this controlling reader) have total control in the direction our lives take.

Quotes I enjoyed

“Why did she give up wine for Lent? Polly was more sensible. She had given up strawberry jam. Cecilia had never seen Polly show more than a passing interest in strawberry jam, although now, of course, she was always catching her standing at the open fridge, staring at it longingly. The power of denial.”

“When you were young you talked about ‘falling in love’ with such amusing gravity, as if it were an actual recordable event, when what was it really? Chemicals. Hormones. A trick of the mind.”

“None of us ever know all the possible courses our lives could have, and maybe should have taken.”

Daughter, Jane Shemilt

Blurb segment They have a picture. It’ll help. But it doesn’t show the way her hair shines so brightly it looks like sheets of gold. She has a tiny mole, just beneath her left eyebrow. She smells very faintly of lemons. She bites her nails. She never cries. She loves autumn, I wanted to tell them. She collects leaves, like a child does. She is just a child. Find Her.

One Year Later.

Naomi is still missing. Jenny is a mother on the brink of obsession. The Malcolm family is in pieces. Is finding the truth about Naomi the only way to put them back together? Or is the truth the thing that will finally tear them apart?

Review Funnily enough as soon as I picked up this book I drew quite a few parallels with The Husband’s Secret – it is a thriller with a difference in that focuses more on the social implications of the crime and the nuances of family life rather than the crime itself (although both still solve the crimes quite adequately, in my opinion).

This book focuses on the intimacies and intricacies of family relationships and, in particular, on the relationship between a mother, Jenny, and her daughter, Naomi, who goes missing.

Rather than jumping narratives like in The Husband’s Secret, this book jumps tenses from around the time of the disappearance to one year on. Like her creator, Jenny is a GP, and I enjoyed the fluency in which this is integrated with her narrative and colours her thoughts and feelings. One year on, Jenny has moments of calm in her cottage in Wales but still suffers frenzied bouts of panic, and I felt right there with her in those moments, despite having no children myself.

Shemilt reveals details surrounding the night Naomi goes missing slowly but surely, and the book only really starts to climax right at the end. I’ve read quite a few mixed reviews about this book, but I felt my suspense was held throughout, and whilst the ending (without giving too much away) wasn’t what I might have expected or hoped for, I think books like this require the kind of finale which doesn’t quite tie up all loose ends. My one gripe I think is that I’m not sure how realistic it is that two out of three children from a loving family would choose paths that are so damaging and extreme independently of each other.

I do wonder how books like these are read differently by mothers and wives – I am currently neither but feel both authors in this instance did a good job of describing in such a way that I could empathise with their leading ladies. Perhaps I should read Daughter again when I have a daughter of my own and see how this affects my thoughts on the book.

Quotes I enjoyed

“Autumn deepens into winter. In the morning the silence presses coldly against my face.
I listen though I’m not sure what I’m listening for. By now I should have learnt the absence of the sounds that I took for granted: the muted steps of bare feet, the distant kettle, murmuring radio voices and the porcelain clink of the coffee cups on the edge of the bath. The noises one person makes are quiet, careful, separated out. They ebb into silence. I open the window and the softly crashing breath of the sea comes into the room like something alive.”

“I climb the cliff path, waiting as Bertie jumps stiffly up the ledges of grey rock. At the top the wind blows spray against my mouth like rain. It seeps between my lips, salty, more like tears than rain.”

Helen

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