When books are compared to runaway hits like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, I almost wonder if it’s more of a disservice to the new title rather than a positive. When I started reading The Widow by Fiona Barton, it had those comparisons attached. While I initially scoffed at any comparisons to those blockbusters, The Widow can handle it.
As I was reading, I wasn’t sure sure if early readers and blurb providers were trying to indicate that Jean Taylor, the “widow” in the title, is an unreliable narrator, or if this was another “what-happened-to-this-person” book.
But Jean is reliable, right? I mean, being so innocent and trusting in her husband doesn’t make you unreliable; it makes you gullible. But a kernel of doubt introduced in the jacket copy (“The truth–that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…”) has the reader second-guessing everything throughout, assuming that Jean Taylor is indeed an unreliable narrator.
You see, The Widow is about a little girl, Bella Elliott, who was abducted from her Southampton garden, and the subsequent investigation into her disappearance. It’s told through a trio of voices: the detective, the reporter and the widow.
Not one to pay attention to chapter headings, I had to change my ways with this one. Not only does each chapter change perspective, but they also jump around in time, visiting different scenes of importance between 2006 and 2010. And each chapter is identified by The Detective, The Reporter, or The Widow along with the date of their narration.
But Jean Taylor isn’t unreliable. She’ll tell you that her husband, Glen, just happened to be delivering a package in the area when the child was taken, and now the police are trying to entrap him with internet porn and child trafficking. And the fact that the couple can’t have children, so she kept an album of baby pictures from a magazine, was just a coincidence. It doesn’t mean she had anything to do with Bella’s disappearance.
Or did she? The question of reliability throughout actually made this a fantastic read. So do you hand-sell it with the Gone Girland The Girl on the Train comparables? Sure–if it helps. But it can also stand on its own merits, too.
The Widow by Fiona Barton (NAL |9781101990261 | February 16, 2016)