Crime fiction,  Domestic Noir

The Widow by Fiona Barton

If you have a Twitter account, I am sure you heard about Bantami Press’ latest release for which Transworld Books was in charge of promoting: The Widow by Fiona Barton, published on the  14th of January, 2016. Thanks to Ben Willis for sending me the review copy.

You see, my husband died three weeks ago. Knocked down by a bus just outside Sainsbury’s. He was there one minute, giving me grief about what sort of cereal I should’ve bought, and the next, dead on the road. Head injuries, they said. Dead, anyway.

The Widow tells the story of Jean ‘Jeanie’ Taylor, the recent widow of Glenn Taylor. Aged almost 40, Jeanie has spent half her life married to Glenn, living with him, and following his tips. Right, Jeanie? As we read we learn that Jeanie was not much liked at home, and upon meeting Glenn in her late teens, they got married. He worked in a bank, she was a hairdresser, and life went on until, one day, Glenn is involved in a pedophilia scandal and the disappearance of a toddler called Bella. How will Jean react to this?

Barton’s novel is more of a study character than a mystery or a thriller. Even though the story is told from different points of view, they all make Jeanie and her relationship with Glenn the main character. The abusive relationship in which Jeanie sees herself subjected to her husband’s patronising know-it-all tips take much of the narrative, probably in an effort to make Jeanie one of the most gray characters I have ever met. However, that was not enough. I appreciated the effort to make Jeanie an interesting and complex character, but I could not bring myself to believe her. From chapter 2 I knew what she knew, and I knew she was not telling, so it was just a matter of time I was told. There was no real character development in the waiting, and I felt Jeanie could have had a darker side.

The novel is told from three points of view: Jeanie’s, Kate’s – the journalist trying to get an exclusive interview with the widow and the real jewel here – and Rob Sparkes, the detective in charge of investigating Glenn. Both Kate and Rob help construct Jeanie as a character, but it is Kate who sees beyond the “housewifey” act and offers a more interesting take on her. Sparkes is a mediocre detective, not outstanding in any sense from his literary peers: middle-aged, haunted by the case, and with a troubled family life.

I really wanted to enjoy The Widow because I thought it would go beyond the middle-class houswifey façade and offer a subversive perspective on Jeanie Taylor as someone who has been subjected for half her life and has had enough. But Barton played the safe card with both the main character and the ending, which I had to re-read twice to believe that all that Internet sub-worlds and pedophilia research led to such a bleak conclusion. One thing to highlight, though, is the marvellous use of the language Barton does, and the Kate’s character, which I thought could make a series. Isn’t it about time we have a series with a research female journalist as the main character? I will keep an eye on Barton to see if she has decided to develop Kate, which I really, really hope she does.



  • lonesomereadereric

    Interesting to hear your thoughts and point of view on this. I can see how you felt that way. I guess I decided to go along with the whole suspense of it waiting to find out what Jeanie was going to do and what she was withholding. But I can totally see how you feel the way you do.

    • Elena

      I just didn’t buy it. I have been reading some domestic noir (Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, etc) and I don’t think Jeanie came up half as believable as any of the women I have read before. So, I understand that you actually enjoyed it?

  • crimeworm

    I haven’t reviewed this yet, although I’ve read it. I felt the book could have quite literally went any number of ways at the end! And like you, I thought the character of Kate was the only three dimensional one – possibly because Fiona Barton was a tabloid journalist? All the coffees with the cop irritated me too – unprofessional. Even if you’re not talking about the case, you’re leaving yourself open to accusations of unprofessional conduct. Still, got to move the story along somehow, and pass knowledge and opinions on to each other…Fiona Barton could be a writer to watch though. Nice review, Elena, as ever!

    • Elena

      Thank you, Linda. It means a lot to know there are other people out there who agree with my review. I didn’t buy the housewifey act. I didn’t believe for a moment that Jeanie knew nothing about it. I think Barton turned motherhood into a trauma and used it an excuse. In short, the book was not really for me.

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