I really can blame Amazon for this one as I chose to buy ‘The Husband’s Secret’ purely based on the recommendation that popped up on my Kindle as I finished reading ‘Gone Girl’ (by Gillian Flynn) – a tricksy psychological thriller which plays a clever game with the reader’s expectations. Amazon reliably informed me that based on this book, ‘The Husband’s Secret’ might be something I would also enjoy. As such I started reading the book with high hopes but it soon became apparent that I would have trouble getting motivated to keep returning to this story.
It revolves around three central characters – the elderly mother of a teenage girl who was murdered many years before (the crime unsolved); the domestic goddess wife of a well respected and goodlooking man; and another career woman who has grown up with an abnormally close relationship to her overweight cousin only for this cousin to lose lots of weight and attempt to start an affair with her husband. I kept hoping that there would be a clever twist or a spectacular plot development but, to be honest, the ‘secret’ is something you can guess almost immediately (you may have guessed already simply by reading my incredibly potted summary!), I found the characters and story extremely contrived and the denoument somewhat too neat and tidy. There was no emotional depth to the characters and the author has not attempted any clever word play or deeper insight into the human condition. There is no room for the reader to come to their own conclusions. I realise that that’s what chick lit is much of the time – a little bit of escapist nonsense with no real pretentions to high art – but compared to some of my favourite ‘lad lit’ from Nick Hornby, John O’Farrell and Tony Parsons this volume pales significantly in comparison.
Take O’Farrell’s “The Best a Man Can Get”. Now admittedly I read this book a long time ago but a good feeling about a book stays with you. The story centres around a young man who attempts to lead a double life – on the one hand he is living like a lazy student bum in a house-share with a load of mates doing whatever pleases him and having mammoth 14 hour sleep-filled nights. On the other, he is a married man with a family (including new baby) and thereby he has found the perfect way to duck out of any kind of responsibility when it comes to supporting his poor partner.
I read this book when I was young free and single myself and remember being thoroughly entertained – this is a book with laugh out loud moments – the main character is hyper-real – and come to think of it definitely has similarities with the protagonist in Hornby’s ‘About a Boy’. I am all set to re-read this as I’m fascinated to know whether it will still entertain me now I am a mother myself, and, knowing what I know about male-female relationships even when there are no honesty issues (see my ‘Before Midnight’ review) the very idea of a man doing this – well, its would be worse and less forgiveable than finding out your partner was having an affair to be honest.
So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not against ‘switch your brain off at the door’ type fiction, but what I do need is a hook which has to be a bit stronger than just taking a stereotype (‘the domestic goddess’, ‘the emotionally retarded’, ‘the wronged wife’) and throwing in a few plot developments for them to deal with in their own less than perfect way. Or maybe all this says about me is that I like to be given the opportunity to laugh out loud…