At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read.
My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died….
Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret – something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble upon the letter while your husband is still very much alive…
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all – she’s an incredibly successful business woman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything – and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia – or each other – but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.
Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses – and ultimately ourselves.
Cecilia Fitzpatrick is in the attic looking for her piece of the Berlin Wall to show her daughter, Esther, who’s currently obsessed with that particular point in history. When she knocks over some shoe boxes of paperwork she is surprised to find a letter addressed to her in her husband’s hand that says it should only be opened in the event of his death. Unnerved and curious, she takes it with her from the attic and racks her brain to think why John-Paul would have written it. What did he need to tell her so badly upon his death that he couldn’t tell her while alive? With no answers in mind she then ponders her dilemma: whether or not to open the letter. As Cecilia does this you inevitably consider what you’d do in her position, beginning a theme of this novel where you will ask yourself that question many times as the characters face life changing situations and decisions that may initially seem black and white, but are actually coloured multiple shades of grey.
The book is narrated by three very different women: Cecilia, a woman who, like her house and children, is always perfectly put together, she’s very active socially in her children’s school and the local community and runs a successful business. Cecilia is happily married and prides herself on perfection and order. Then there’s Rachel, a widow who works as St Angela’s school secretary, is still grieving the death of her daughter, Janie, many years ago to the point where it has almost become her identity. She barely leaves the house except for work and finds joy in the days she cares for her young grandson Jacob. Finally we have Tess, who’s come back to Sydney to stay with her mother after her husband and cousin have announced they are in love. Socially anxious she tries to avoid talking to the other mothers and is desperately trying to find a way to come to terms with the bomb that was dropped into her life and put the pieces back in some kind of order.
As I started reading I was intrigued and thought the women were relatable characters. Though I probably related most of all to Tess I found it was her storyline I had the least investment in and, if I’m honest, I didn’t understand the reason for having her as a narrator rather than a secondary character. While some of that did become clearer, I still think the book could have been as good, maybe even better, if it had just focused on Cecilia and Rachel. Also, while they were relatable and at times I had empathy for them, I didn’t like any of the protagonists. They all became increasingly unlikeable as the book went on and I found Tess particularly aggravating at the end.
Throughout the book there are many references to, and facts about, the Berlin Wall. It starts off as simply being Cecilia’s middle daughter’s latest obsession and her reason for searching the attic. But not only does her daughter keep bringing up the wall, there are also facts mentioned at other points and sometimes we will be told what some of the characters were doing at that same time. I realised that the symbolism was each character was facing their own Berlin Wall of sorts; a time of division in their lives and the choice to knock it down and rebuild their lives or allow it to remain standing and plod along. I thought it was an interesting choice and I enjoyed learning more about the history of the wall as I was just ten when it came down and only really remember that aspect of it.
I wanted to love this book. The synopsis sounded exciting but for me the book fell flat. I guessed the secret very quickly but that wasn’t something that impacted my enjoyment. For me it was that once the secret was revealed, which is quite early on in the book, the small amount of tension that had been there dissipated, the plotting was all over the place and it was a chore to reach the end. I read this book as part of my book club and one of the readers said something that I feel sums up how I felt about this book: it seemed purposeless. An issue I had was the timescale: the whole book takes place over just one week. These characters are trying to come to terms with things that have rocked their whole world and make life changing decisions, something that doesn’t happen quickly. Yet we were expected to believe they did so over the course of less than a week. I’m not going to give any spoilers but I didn’t like the final decisions any of the characters made or the tone the book ended on before the epilogue. It felt too cliched, syrupy sweet and there were no real conclusions.
There were some things I did really enjoy about this story, for example I liked the character’s inner monologue and how that drove the story. I also liked the chapters written from Janie’s perspective the day of her death as they made her a real person, someone we cared about so we felt the tragedy of her death along with her family. But the thing I enjoyed most of all was the epilogue. If the whole book was as beautiful, emotional and amazing as that I’d be writing a very different review. The “sliding doors” aspect in relation to Janie’s death was haunting and tragic as we see what could have been. I felt like it enforced one of the book’s themes which was that secrets have far reaching consequences and every decision we make has an impact on others besides ourselves and can set us on a completely different and unexpected course in life.
Her Husband’s Secret was an okay book but I don’t think I’d recommend it. The author is highly regarded so I think if you’re going to pick up one of her novels then it is best to start with a different title.