The Widow by Fiona Barton
NAL, 2016, 336 pages
Fiona Barton’s The Widow is a debut novel about the life of a woman before and after the death of her husband, who has been accused of the kidnap and assumed murder of a little girl. Although Glen, the widow’s husband, maintains that he had nothing to do with Bella’s disappearance, both the media and the law are convinced otherwise. Now that Glen has died in apparent bus accident, the truth will out. With a nonlinear pattern and nebulous characters, Barton’s first novel is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The Widow came to my attention through Book Riot’s podcast, Dear Book Nerd. Show host Rita Mead discussed the book with glee, holding back spoilers for the “big reveal,” of the book and essentially convinced me to read it with her enthusiasm in an episode from several months ago. I generally prefer not to take recommendations from others, especially if I don’t actually know the person giving the recommendation. I should have stuck with my unspoken policy on this one, because, while The Widow was a quick read and not the worst book I’ve ever picked up, it’s not something I would have chosen for myself.
One of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to get into “adult” fiction (as opposed to the young adult or YA fiction I usually read), is that I’ve found many of the adult fiction “bestsellers” I’ve picked up have been shallow in various ways. The Widow was a prime example of this. Although there’s nothing trivial about the subject matter of (and if I haven’t made it clear by now, this review might use some upsetting language, concepts, etc., so read on at your own risk) the abduction, sexual abuse, and murder of a child (or anyone), I ultimately felt that Barton’s writing was more about pure entertainment than anything else. That might be okay for some people, but I personally feel that if you’re going to use a topic like such as in The Widow, there needs to be more substance than just shock value.
Part of what drew me into the novel to begin with was Mead’s promise that the twist was stunning. I’m always up for a big twist, so I went in expecting and anticipating it inThe Widow. Frankly, the “twist” wasn’t a twist at all. I can’t blame this entirely on the book because I obviously had some expectations going into it, but plenty of context within the book suggested a twist was coming – the nonlinear timeline, the withholding of information, the use of multiple points of view – and it simply never did.
This brings me to my next grievance: multiple points of view. The Widow is told in both third and first person, with chapters in which the widow, Jean, stars, being in first person and all else in third. Third-person chapters primarily focus on a police detective intent on proving Glen Taylor’s guilt and a journalist equally fixed on worming the real story out of Jean. Other characters, too, have their chapters. As a general rule, I dislike books that use multiple points of view or lenses and there are few exceptions where it’s done well. In The Widow, this strategy felt more like Barton’s attempt to do some literary tricks rather than attempt to accomplish anything. There was really no benefit to this method.
Barton’s writing style is campy in some places, particularly when she inhabits the mind of the obsessed detective. In moments as Jean, the author makes a naïve and child-like caricature of the character, which perhaps says something about Glen’s pedophilia, but never feels realistic or natural. The reader can hardly believe Jean is able to take care of herself, let alone keep the secrets she’s charged with and harbor conflicting feelings about her late husband. Drawing from her own experience as a journalist, Barton also writes her journalist character as a quippy woman I’d sooner expect in a cheesy-ish cop show.
The Widow is a surface drama, never truly assuming the literary fiction it could be, but failing to deliver a cohesive and comfortably-flowing plot. The book isn’t a total disaster and has its merits with small details that make scenes interesting, but it’s not a masterpiece.
❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤