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Catherine McKenzie

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52 Books in 52 Weeks, Week 32: Famous Last Words

Posted: 08/12/2013 8:51 am

Week 32's read for 52 books in 52 weeks was the excellent The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison.

Billed as this summer's Gone Girl, The Silent Wife tells the story of a couple who has been together for twenty years -- but never married -- and the way each of them deals with the revelation of his infidelity. Told in the alternating perspectives of the couple throughout the book, we learn in the first lines that she will murder him within a few months. That big reveal out of the way, we are left to watch time unfurl towards this event.

The comparisons to Gone Girl are obvious -- marriage gone horribly wrong as a result of infidelity; damaged, high achieving women, damaged, boyishly charming men -- but that comparison is both accurate and a disservice to both books. And by that I mean that while the audience for both books might be similar, they each stand on their own and have their own strengths and weaknesses.

The strengths of The Silent Wife is in its pacing and the writing. This novel did not read like a debut (though, what does that mean, really? Why do we expect first novels to be less good, somehow, than seasoned ones?), but then, of course, it isn't really. A.S.A. Harrison spent her life writing, having published in other genres before, this being only her first novel. This novel also had me reading it from start to finish in a matter of hours. I am a fast reader, but it's rare these days that I get so completely absorbed in a book.

And then there's the fact that the conclusion is revealed up front, and despite this Harrison brilliantly keeps us on the edge of our seat throughout the book.

This is not a perfect book. There are things that happen at the end that are a little too pat, a little too convenient, that muddy the waters a little too much. But that can easily be forgiven. It is not the controversy of the ending of Gone Girl, but I suspect many a book club will be debating the end and the choices the characters make.

After I read the book I became curious about its author. I knew she was a fellow Canadian as our books turn up next to each other on the 'New By Canadians' shelves, but beyond that, nothing. So it was with great sadness that I learned that she died, at 65, of cancer just a little over a month before the book published. While this is a tragedy, of course, for her, for her family, and for those of us who won't have any more books to read by her, it is also a lovely epitaph. She lived long enough to know she would be published and that the book was getting great early reviews. And now that she's on the New York Times bestseller list, she's achieved a level of success that one hopes she somehow knows about, even if one doesn't believe in such things.

Week 33's read will be Jojo Moyes', Me Before You, out now in paperback. Warning: the last third of this book should not be read in public. Trust me.

 

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