The Wife and the Widow, Christian White

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

THE WIFE AND THE WIDOW is a standalone thriller from Australian novelist and screenwriter Christian White. It was released in 2019 and just goes to prove what a massive mess my reading life has become. This unbelievably clever, stylish book has been sitting on my to be read mountain WAAAYYY too long. 

Set on a strange little island that only comes alive in summer, the timeframe for this work is the dead of winter. Dead referring to the weather - it's cold, wet and miserable in the main, and to the level of activity as the population dwindles to a small number of locals, with most of the houses being summer retreats, boarded up and silent during the winter months. 

The "wife" of the title is Abby, an island local who lives there with her handyman husband Ray and their two kids. They don't have much money, and live in an old house that's creaking a bit around the edges, but they seem happy. Granted Abby has a bit of a dead-end job in the local supermarket, and her very unexpected passion is taxidermy - stuffing small animals that are mostly "gifted" to her after being discovered by other locals. Until the day she finds male pornography stashed in the garage where her husband's tools etc are stored.

The "widow" is Kate, a woman who is shattered to discover her doctor husband had a secret life, after he fails to return from an overseas conference he never went to in the first place, and then is discovered dead on the island, where they own one of the summer retreat cottages. They aren't frequent visitors to the island, so heading there with her father-in-law after the discovery of her husband's body is a strange experience, as is what they discover in the house when they arrive.

The novel switches rapidly between the stories of these two women, with Abby's life filled out with her relationship with family, friends and the place that they live. Kate has a slightly trickier world to navigate, with parents-in-law that she's known for years, who don't really seem to know her, a young daughter, and a now dead husband with secrets. She's the one actively "investigating", obviously as she's the one with the huge loss, whereas Abby seems to be dealing with discovering she may not know all there is to know about the man she is married to. Other than the location, there's no immediate indication of what connects these two women, and the twist, when it happens is an absolute doozy. Needless to say, next to impossible to discuss here without massive spoilers.

The writing in this novel is whip smart, sparse and beautifully done. The emotional lives of the two main female characters is explored without ever turning into something voyeuristic or manipulative, and the day to day experience of a wife with questions that she may still be able to get answers to, and a widow who isn't sure she'll ever know the full story is absolutely fascinating.

If you've not read THE WIFE AND THE WIDOW yet then you're in for an absolute treat - but stay away from too many spoiler's and see if you can pick the twist before it slaps you over the head like it did this reader.


Year of Publication

Set against the backdrop of an eerie island town in the dead of winter, The Wife and The Widow is an unsettling thriller told from two perspectives: Kate, a widow whose grief is compounded by what she learns about her dead husband’s secret life; and Abby, an island local whose world is turned upside when she’s forced to confront the evidence of her husband’s guilt. But nothing on this island is quite as it seems, and only when these women come together can they discover the whole story about the men in their lives. Brilliant and beguiling, The Wife and The Widow takes you to a cliff edge and asks the question: how well do we really know the people we love? 

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