When Londoner Jean Taylor’s husband, Glen, became the prime suspect in a little girl’s death, Jean fell into the role of steadfast wife, even as the murder investigation turned up increasingly dark details about her spouse. But in Fiona Barton’s The Widow, the story truly begins four years later, after Glen’s sudden death, when Jean finds herself courted by journalists hungry to hear her story. In this deft, page-turning debut, narration is shared among the widow, a journalist, and a detective, each circling the truth of what really happened to Glen and his alleged victim, and who Jean really is, that she would stand by a monster.
Her marriage is at the heart of Barton’s novel. Here, the author shares 10 of her favorite books centering on marriages that hold dark secrets of their own.
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
There are three people in the second Mrs de Winter’s marriage (well, four, if you count terrifying housekeeper Mrs. Danvers) and a terrible secret that lurks in every room of Manderley, the family mansion. At times Rebecca is a tragic love story, at others, a Gothic horror, but it is as tense, unsettling, and compelling today as it was when Daphne du Maurier wrote it in 1938.
Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow
I remember reading this legal thriller about an unfaithful husband accused of murdering his former mistress back in the late 1980s and literally gasping at the twist. I was reading it so fast, dragged headlong by the plot, wrongfooted by the red herrings and the unreliable characters, that I almost missed it the first time. When my brain caught up seconds later, I flipped back a page and reread it. I could not believe what Turow had done. It was brilliant then and still is now.
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
It is Lady Dedlock’s secret that pulled me into Dickens’s masterpiece. Her marriage is, at first glance, a minor plotline, dwarfed by the endless Jarndyce and Jarndyce court case. She is portrayed as a woman who allows no emotion to show, living in glacial splendor with her husband, Sir Leicester. But we are allowed to see hairline cracks begin to weaken that implacable façade when the lies about her life emerge. It is a devastating portrait of the disintegration of a woman and her marriage and makes me cry each time I read it.
“55 Miles To The Gas Pump” from Close Range: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx
This is one of the shortest story I’ve ever read—it comes in at 262 words—but is completely stunning. A shocking and enthralling glimpse into a marriage with a secret at its black heart.
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Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy
I fell in love with Tess—and the idea of life as a milkmaid—as a 16-year-old. Hard to say why, but it felt very real at the time! The marriage of Tess and Angel Clare is doomed from the outset but, unusually in this list, the reader knows from the beginning the secret that will become a cancer in their relationship. The sense of impending doom is heightened because it’s shared with the heroine, and when the agonizing denouement comes, we are as devastated as Tess.
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, by Kim Edwards
This is the second pick where we’re in the know from the start. Since reading Sophie’s Choice, I have been haunted by the agonizing idea of choosing between two children. This dilemma, that reaches down into my and many other reader’s darkest fears, is presented here by Kim Edwards as a secret the reader and the husband share. Only the wife is left in the dark as the events unfold and she pieces the jigsaw together.
Before I Go To Sleep, by S.J. Watson
It’s hard to say anything about the plot without giving away its superb twists, but this is a rollercoaster ride with a fantastic premise: What if you lost your memory every time you went to sleep? I loved the vulnerability of Christine’s predicament, entirely reliant on her attentive husband, the disturbing flashbacks to a violent attack, and the question of who she should trust.
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
This complex book, with a novel within a novel entwined in its pages, kept me guessing throughout. It’s a beautifully told story of two sisters and the secrets they kept from each other and one spouse. It tangles and untangles its plot lines, jumping back and forward in time, reeling you into its structure until you are helplessly caught.
Bring Up The Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
This partnership is one of the best known and examined in history, but Mantel makes the marriage of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and the adulterous and political secrets that destroy it as accessible and immediate as an episode of Coronation Street. Of course, no one actually loses their head in Corrie.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Come on—of course it’s here. Just need to say the title. No other explanation required, I suspect.