Title: The Husband's Secret
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia
Read: March 31 - April 01, 2013
The Husband's Secret is a funny, heartbreaking novel of marriage, grief, love and secrets. When her husband announces he's in love with her best friend, painfully shy Tess picks up her young son and returns to her mother's house. There she begins an unexpected affair with an old flame. Rachel is a woman in her sixties consumed by grief and anger at the loss of her daughter twenty years earlier. When her son announces he is taking her beloved grandson overseas, Rachel begins a descent into deeper bitterness and pain. Cecilia is the quintessential "I don't know how she does it" woman. A devoted mother to three daughters, she runs her household like clockwork, is President of the P&C, owns an extremely successful Tupperware business and is happy in her fifteen-year marriage. Until she discovers a letter in their attic labelled: "To my wife Cecilia, to be opened in the event of my death"... Her husband's secret is a bombshell beyond all imagining with repercussions across the lives of all three women.
I loved all of Liane Moriarty’s previous books, and was therefore very excited to find out that her latest novel was available for download from Amazon. It quickly solved my dilemma of the dreadfully difficult decision of which book on my looooooong tbr list to read next (maybe if I was as organised as Cecilia I would have a better system than the eeny-meeny-miny-mo method I usually employ, coupled with much nail-biting and doubt over my final decision). And The Husband’s Secret did not disappoint – Moriarty’s gift of making her characters almost real flesh-and-blood people, coupled with the offer of an unexpected roster day off from work, made for an intense read-a-thon which saw me finishing this book in a few hours of sheer reading bliss.
From the premise of the novel to the very last detail of its execution The Husband’s Secret had me totally in its grip and still causes some soul searching even now after the last page has been turned. What would you do if you found a letter written to you by your husband years ago, marked “to be opened in the event of my death”? Cecilia of course wants to do the right thing – she is the queen of proper decision-making (no eeny-meeny-miny-mo for her), and decides to ask her husband John-Paul about it first. His reaction is so baffling that for once Cecilia does give in to temptation – and opens the letter. Its contents are so startling, so mind-blowing that her life, and that of their three daughters, can never be the same again. No matter of organising, smoothing-over or patching-up will ever fix this mess, and for the first time in her life Cecilia finds herself totally out of her depth.
Told in the third-person narrative, the book’s chapters are written from the perspective of three different people, who are seemingly unconnected in the beginning of the novel.
Tess, part owner and operator of a small advertising agency in Melbourne and mother of a six-year old son, has little idea of how her life is about to change when her husband and her cousin take her aside in the middle of her favourite TV show to confess that they have fallen in love. Feeling betrayed and heartbroken she takes her son and flees to Sydney under the guise of helping her mother cope after breaking her ankle. It is there that she runs into an ex-boyfriend she last saw when she was nineteen, and who is still very attracted to her.
Rachel, who after twenty-eight years is still mourning the tragic death of her teenage daughter Janie, is having to face losing her beloved grandson when her son and daughter-in-law announce their planned move to New York. This decision, coupled with the imminent anniversary of Janie’s death, brings back renewed feelings of loss and grief for Rachel, who contemplates a lonely life on her own in Sydney.
Through Cecilia and the startling revelation in John-Paul’s letter these three women’s lives become intertwined in ways none of them could have imagined.
I loved the premise of the book, the question of “what if” which seems to have become a popular theme in modern literature. Perhaps because every one of us at some stage in our lives will ask this question: “What if I had acted differently? How would my life have changed?” Moriarty answers this existential question perfectly in her epilogue, bringing together all the threads of the story and presenting a very satisfying finale – but enough said, there will be no spoilers from me.
Inspired by real-life death-bed confessions, Moriarty’s novel raises a lot of moral and ethical questions of what constitutes “the right thing”. I may have been quite black-and-white in my answer prior to reading this novel, but vacillated constantly between different answers as several angles were explored. I may be a terrible decision maker, but in the face of such controversy, even the super organised Cecilia never stood a chance (of course she had a lot more to lose as well). And just when you may have thought that “the right thing” is pretty clear, the author challenges it with some startling revelations at the very end of the book. Amazing.
What I also love about Moriarty’s writing is the authenticity of her characters. All three main protagonists are the women-next-door, the mothers you see at the school gates, the members of your bookclub or the people standing in front of you in the supermarket queue. It brings the events unfolding even closer to home, thinking that this could happen to anyone, at any time. I had such vivid pictures in my mind of all characters involved that their personalities, their families and their homes seemed like I had seen them in real life. Perhaps the only thing I missed in this novel was the tongue-in-cheek humour found in “What Alice Forgot”, which still makes it my favourite Moriarty book to-date.
Apart from secrets kept and secrets exposed, marriage and motherhood feature as strongly in The Husband’s Secret as in previous novels. As a mother, decisions no longer involve just a single person, but have grave outcomes on the people you love most.
“You’re a mother. You’d do anything for your children, just like I’d do anything for mine. “
Would I, or wouldn’t I? If it involved my own children, yes, I probably would. Regardless of moral and ethical dilemmas, like a lioness protecting her cub I wouldn’t hesitate to defend my young. And this is where it becomes tricky of course. Although in Virginia's shoes I don't think I could just turn a blind eye, I would have to confront my child and find out the truth, no matter how painful that may be.
Enough said. I loved this book. I fully recommend it. Go and buy it and see for yourself. If you enjoyed Moriarty’s previous novels, you will not be disappointed.
I read this book as part of my 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge; as well as my 2013 Monthly Keyword Challenge ("secret").