I discovered Liane Moriarty last year when I read her latest novel, Little Lies, about to be adapted into a TV show with Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. I loved the novel so much – click here to revisit the review – that I asked the publishers if there were review copies left of her previous novel, The Husband’s Secret, and they kindly sent me one of the new editions.
‘None of us know all the possible courses our lives could have, and maybe, should have taken. It’s probably just as well’.
The Husband’s Secret, like Little Lies, is a choral novel that focuses as much on the community as on the impact that each individual has on it. In this case, Sydney’s suburbia and a primary, Catholic school provide a perfect setting for the development of very different characters: Cecilia is an overachiever mom of three that swiftly moves from PA duties, to her motherly duties, and to her Tupperware representative duties. At her daughters’ school she meets Tess, recently arrived with her son from Melbourne, and Rachel, whose daughter, Janie was murdered decades ago, but who still lives in the area and is active on the school organization.
All the above characters have families, and they are all related to each other. The main characters are, without a doubt, Tess, Cecilia and Rachel, and how they differ on their approaches to motherhood and being a woman with a family. One of Moriarty’s strengths is both celebrating and making critical comments of the many tasks and duties middle-aged women – and especially mothers – are asked to perform on a daily basis. Cecilia struggles with her perfectionism until she no longer can live the lie her perfect life is when she finds a letter from her husband hidden in the attic (where else?!) to be opened on the event of his death. Tess sees her whole world and family questioned when her husband declares their relationship over, so she moves to find comfort and strength at her mother’s home in Sydney. Finally, Rachel has re-discovered her motherly side with her grandson, while she struggles with the unsolved murder of her daughter, Janie.
‘Did one act define who you were forever? ‘
As you can imagine, I loved The Husband’s Secret, mainly because through her characters, Moriarty presents the reader with a reality that feels like real life. Cecilia’s and Tess’ struggles translate perfectly as they question, ponder and make decisions that could very well change their lives forever. Despite focusing on three very different characters – an introvert, and extrovert and a traumatized mother – their voices are unique, and it is easy to sympathize with them. Moreover, the three of them prove that there can be struggles, traumas, and very difficult times, but there is always time, and space, to recover and become a better self. Because if there is something The Husband’s Secret is about, that’s regaining one’s strength, a firm step at a time, always as part of a family, and a community.
‘All the murder victims looked exactly like murder victims: beautiful, innocent and doomed, as if it was preordained.’
As for the crime, Janie’s death is explored not only as a mystery, but as an act that forever changed her family. It is not usual to see the family’s side of a murder in crime fiction, at least not directly, and Moriarty explores Janie’s death through her mother, Rachel. The daily struggle, The Day that is forever marked on her calendar, and her mind constantly wandering to what-ifs, perfectly describes how human beings deal with loss. At times it is frustrating, other times it simply breaks you to read about Rachel’s sleepless nights thinking about her daughter, but above all, the narrative is humane: eventually we all have good days and bad days, no matter what we are going through, but the trick is – like the book says – to keep breathing.
So, I would highly recommend The Husband’s Secret to anyone. It is a complex novel that has it all, but at the same time it reads quickly, because you cannot put the book down. The Sydney community Moriarty describes shows her hopeful take on people, and how we do really help each other.