Sally Hepworth is a masterful storyteller. Her books are a good cross between thrillers and women’s fiction; there is almost always a murder or an incident at the beginning of the story, that then you read backwards about. But unlike most thrillers which are filled to the brim with gore and plot twists that are simply there to be sensational, Hepworth’s novels explore the psychological underpinnings of characters to make them leap off the page.
The Younger Wife starts off with a wedding between Heather, the younger wife, and Stephan, a sixty-something man with two grown up daughters, and an ex-wife who suffers from dementia. The newly married couple step into an alcove with their family to sign the marriage papers when something happens; someone is murdered. We don’t know who it is, but we travel back a year before the wedding to read through the perspectives of three women: Tully, Rachel, and Heather.
In her previous book The Mother-In-Law, Hepworth tackles the almost always hated character of the mother-in-law and fleshes her out so that you can’t help but feel sympathy for her. She does the same in The Younger Wife as she masterfully delves deeper into the minds and lives of her characters.
At the onset, you are primed to think that there is something wrong with Heather. She’s much younger than Stephen when they meet, while he is still married to Pam, who is supposedly the love of his life but has slowly succumbed to dementia. There are countless stories about such younger wives who are evil husband-stealers, so that’s the stereotype you’re working with. But instead, you find someone who has a dark past, but isn’t completely dark herself. The villainous caricature of the younger wife is turned completely on its head as we read about Heather’s troubled past, and her struggles with trying to create a new life for herself.
Tully and Rachel originally come off as being the normal, well-adjusted, rich daughters of Stephan, but as we switch through their perspectives, we realize how far that is from the truth. Both sisters suffer from slightly different anxieties, and it’s interesting to look at how their seemingly perfect childhood caused these anxieties.
The one character whose perspective we don’t get is Stephan’s but it’s fascinating to see him through his two daughters and his fiancée. There is definitely more to him than meets the eye.
The book does deal with abuse, so that may be triggering to some people. But the way that Hepworth explores it is illuminating. There is abuse that is out in the open and leaves visible scars, but then there is abuse that happens silently and is invisible. Both are harmful and leave lifelong impacts that are further reaching than one can ever imagine.
Dark and captivating, The Younger Wife was a delicious read filled with secrets that were both old and new. If you’re a fan of Lianne Moriarty, you’re going to love Sally Hepworth.
Photo credit: The Guardian