The Wife and the Widow, Christian White, Australia, 2020

The Wife and the Widow, Christian White, Australia, 2020

This tale of intrigue, lies and murder is a good lightweight read, a book to pick up in between more serious books, or a book to read when entertainment is looked for more than reality. Reality is definitely not one of the book’s main priorities.

Not wanting to ruin the story, I will skip the synopsis. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that the story circles around two families – in particular two women, Kate and Abby – and covers a period of more than twenty years. Kate’s husband, John, a doctor, disappears after, or during, a business trip to England: has he simply been delayed? Has he left her? Is he dead? The police become involved, and it becomes apparent that John never made a trip anywhere. Kate and her father-in-law travel to Belport Island where the family own a small holiday cottage. Perhaps the answer is somehow connected to the island?

Abbey, dejected and depressed, lives on the island with her husband and two children. Bit by bit the lives of the two women become intertwined, and lies and secrets are uncovered. About two-thirds through there is a time-twist, which had me rifling through pages at the beginning of the book, wondering if perhaps I had missed something (which I hadn’t).

Image from Australian Geographic

Set partly in Melbourne but mainly on the fictional island of Belport off the south coast of Victoria, much of the atmosphere is grey and cold, due to wet, winter weather and a lack of proper heating. That Abby has taxidermy as a hobby (with a mini-fridge filled with dead animals), does nothing to lift the general feeling of misery. I can understand that the wet, cold, dead-animal atmosphere is simply a way of emphasizing the dark side of the story, but, as the story lacks any substantial depth, the ‘atmosphere’ almost caused me to close the book and look for something else to read.

The characters are lightly sketched and not always completely believable. The out-of-sync religious fervour of the mother-in-law, and the alpha-male attitude of the father-in-law seem almost superfluous to the story, and although the story is held together by the two women, Kate and Abby, we are not given very much information as to their actual appearance, beyond the fact that Abby is frumpily dressed and that Kate is her direct opposite.

Image from

I am aware that The Wife and the Widow (White’s second novel) has received many positive reviews, and I am also aware that people look for, and find, different things in a novel, depending on who they are and what they want at that particular moment in time. Even had I not known that White is a screenwriter, my feeling throughout the book was that The Wife and the Widow is simply waiting for the right actors, the right cinematographer and the right music to give balance to the story and bring it all to life. The fact that it is more of a screenplay than a novel explains the sketchy characterization and the asides (as with the grandparents) leading nowhere in particular.

No doubt the film is already in the pipeline.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *