The Silent Wife
by A.S.A. Harrison
The Silent Wife takes us through the breakdown of the 20-year relationship between fortysomethings Jodi and Todd, when the latter finally realises that he can no longer sustain two relationships now that his young, college-student girlfriend is expecting his child.
To the reader, the life shared by long-term partners, Jodi and Todd is dull, very dull. She is the perfect partner, a trained psychotherapist, who manages the house beautifully for Todd. He is a bit more rough and ready but happy to be ‘managed’ by Jodi. Both are in denial that anything could come between the rock-solid life they’ve built together. Jodi mutely accepts that he has affairs and Todd is quick to point out to himself that ‘loving one more doesn’t mean loving another less’. Even when Jodi finds out that Todd has been sleeping with the daughter of his best school friend, she refuses to accept it, somehow blaming the whole situation on the young girl herself. It’s only when Todd can no longer wriggle out of impending fatherhood and tells Jodi that he is leaving her to move in with the pregnant Natasha, that she has to face up to reality.
From this point, Jodi has a serious of small breakdowns and slowly starts to lose control of her life. However, her friend Alison steps in and helps Jodi to pick up the pieces and assess her future. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that Jodi and Todd aren’t married, so she stands to lose everything she believed herself to have a share in.
We are told, from the first page, that a murder will take place and that ‘a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of’ Jodi. However, we don’t know how or why this will happen. I succeeded in erasing any thoughts of this from my mind, so was shocked when it became clear that Jodi was going to choose this murderous option to get herself out of her dire situation.
Much of the book is written in a very elegant yet plodding prose. The chapters alternate between Jodi and Todd, and we are given both viewpoints, through an unsuccessful omniscient narration, which only serves to distance the reader from either character. For me the novel lacked dialogue and I found it quite dull at times, finding myself skipping large chunks especially when we were given the life stories of many of Jodi’s clients, as well as her own past history which tries to inform us of why she is like she is.
Both characters are difficult to warm to, especially Jodi. Todd also has a past which he can’t seem to shake off. He tells us how much he loves and respects women, but it’s evident that the opposite is true by the way he treats Jodi, Natasha and his secretary, Stephanie.
The couple remind me of Frank and Claire Underwood in House of Cards: both couples are childless, successful, slightly stilted with the other and seemingly content with their lives and what they share together – until something happens to rock the foundations, which their relationships are built on.
There are a lot of psychological references in the book and this would probably be of interest to many people. However, I found they took me away too much from the flow of the main story, and I couldn’t always see their relevance. And isn’t a pet dog called Freud a little too obvious?
This is a very powerful story about the breakdown in a relationship and where it might take you. I think it would have been more successful if we’d followed only one (Jodi’s) viewpoint in a first or third person narrative. I’d like to have seen a bit more change in rhythm and pace as it did feel slow at times.
NB. Very sad to read that the author died before her novel was published.