There are plenty of books that utilize multiple narrators. This device helps the book to be more balanced, in terms of perspectives. This is especially useful in both the suspense and mystery genres. Sometimes, however, this can be misused, as in supporting characters can be given too much attention, or the main character is not given enough. The Widow by Fiona Barton falls into the second category.
The Widow is about Jean Taylor – a woman, who for many years, stands by her husband when he is suspected of kidnapping a 2-year-old girl named Bella. After his death, Jean now has the chance to speak out on what actually happened, but after living with that man for many years, does she herself really know the truth?
The book has four main narrators: Jean; Detective Bob Sparkes, the man who tries to hunt down the kidnapper; Kate Waters, the reporter; and Dawn Elliott, Bella’s mother. This makes sense because it becomes clear during the course of the novel that Jean is unreliable due to how her husband essentially manipulates her. However, since the title is The Widow, I expected to hear more from Jean’s perspective. Instead, the book spends a good chunk of the time focusing on Detective Sparkes’ investigation and Waters’ remarks on journalism. It’s like an adaptation of Cinderella that focuses mostly on the mice (oh wait). What I am trying to say is that if you are going to name the book The Widow, most of the focus should be on that titular character.
At the same time, I thought the investigation and the remarks on journalism were kind of interesting. This is especially true when Detective Sparkes and one of his assistants try to lure Glen – Jean’s husband – into confessing the kidnapping by pretending to be someone else on an online chat. It is also clear that Barton knew a lot about the ins and outs of journalism, especially how reporters would continuously ring out information about a story until it ran dry. It turns out that Barton herself was “a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday” (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25734248-the-widow).
On the other hand, The Widow uses the multiple-narrator device more effectively than Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian. In the latter, each of the four narrators are given equal time to tell their stories. This did not work as intended because as many reviewers have pointed out, one of the characters was incredibly pointless to the overall plot; therefore, her role should have been reduced. In the former, the narrators do not share equal pages. In fact, Dawn as a narrator only shows up in the second half of the book. This particular use of the tactic works, for there are certain characters that I am pretty sure that readers do not want to know their psyche like Glen. Luckily, he is only given one chapter to tell his side of the story. And that was fine by me.
Since the book itself is marketed as a suspense novel, it logically should have some twists and turns in it. However, it regrettably does not. Along with not having enough focus on Jean, this is a major disappointment. I figured out who the kidnapper was about a quarter into the book, and I spent the rest of it feeling frustrated when the characters get so close to confirming that, but only for it to blow up in their faces. Going back to Secrets of Eden, that novel also deals with the aftermath of a crime and how the other characters react to it, yet it makes you believe that a certain character committed it, but it turns out that it was another. Maybe if The Widow did something similar, it would have put me on my toes a bit better.
Listening to the audiobook enhances the multiple-narrator aspect of the novel. Jean is voiced by Hannah Curtis, who is best known in tv shows like ER. Curtis gives Jean a mousy, but sophisticated kind of delivery, which makes Jean sound older than she actually is. This works because of the amount of stress that Jean probably went through while defending and suspecting her husband at the same time. Mandy Williams voices Waters with a confident, but accessible air to her. However, Williams sounds very similar to Jayne Entwistle – an award-winning audiobook narrator (and not related to John Entwistle) who voices Dawn Elliott. This made me a little confused on who was talking at times. Steve West plays Glen with an eeriness about him. West is perfect for this role since he played the killer doll in the movie Seed of Chucky. All of the narrators did a great job, but the one that stood out to me the most was Nicholas Guy Smith, who voices Detective Sparkes. Smith – another award-winning audiobook narrator who voiced one of my favorite books of all time A Gentleman in Moscow – performs as Sparkes with determination and frustration. He also takes it a notch higher by voicing extremely minor characters like the delivery driver with spinal issues with such distinction.
All in all, The Widow is a fine book. It uses the multiple-narrator trope in a fairly cohesive way. A more accurate title could have been The Confession or The Kidnapping due to the amount of time spent on Sparkes and Waters. For those who have read Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, you will be disappointed, but I will not discourage people from reading it. It contains some interesting aspects like the investigation and the double-edge sword commentary on journalism. Here is my main advice for those who are interested: lower your expectations.
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