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She was everything she wasn't, or so she seemed...
The First Wife - Emily Barr
Member Name: Anti
The First Wife - Emily Barr
Advantages: Suspensful story with good plot twists, the likeable lead characters.
Disadvantages: Slighly slow start, some plot points predictable.
'The First Wife' is a contemporary fiction novel by Emily Barr. I'd never heard of this author until I came across some reviews of this particular book a few months ago. Since it sounded like a fairly interesting story I decided to put this book on my 'to-read' list, and a week ago I rented a copy from the library. Don't be fooled by the lighthearted looking book cover above though- this is far from a lighthearted summer read!
Upon the death of the grandparents who raised her, the sheltered, naive Lily Button must find her own way alone in a modern world she isn't accustomed to. With some help she manages to get a cleaning job in the house of the affluent Summers couple. She soon befriends the handsome actor-turned-solicitor Harry and is envious of his wife Sarah with their seemingly perfect lifestyle. So it is all the more baffling when Sarah takes her own life one Christmas during the couple's trip to Barcelona.
Lily soon becomes drawn to a grieving Harry and the pair soon fall into a whirlwind romance and eventually engagement. However, as their marriage looms around the corner, Lily soon becomes uncertain about the circumstances behind Sarah's death. How did Sarah die, if she did at all- and is Harry all that he seems?
'The First Wife' was surprisingly better than expected, even with the positive reviews I read before deciding to read it.
It does have a bit of a slow start, as what the blurb won't mention is that quite a few chapters are spent on Lily adjusting to a "normal" life. They were interesting in that they developed Lily's character a lot, just it didn't really progress the story that much. However, when she finally meets Harry the story definitely picks up as we follow their romance and, underlying that, the secret behind Sarah's death. The book certainly has some suspenseful moments where I wanted to keep reading and get to the secret of the Summers' "perfect" life for Lily's sake, not to mention a few plot twists that kept me on the edge as well. Whilst a couple concerning the main characters are perhaps predictable judging from the synopsis, some details did catch me by surprise!
Emily Barr's narrative is very realistic, especially when she writes as Lily in the first person. Lily is a very sympathetic and relatable character; having been raised from her grandparents after her real parents dumped her rather selfishly, she is very unfamiliar with modern pop culture and technology, hence why their deaths leave her very isolated and unable to cope. Despite this, I didn't find her a frustrating or even that naive because her backstory makes these traits understandable. Besides, she does develop to become familiar with these things and becomes stronger mentally as well, mostly through her relationship with Harry. Their romance is very sweet and I felt happy for Lily despite the disapproval of people who knew Sarah Summers, and you do soon see why.
Interestingly, the other main character in the book is Jack, a guy from New Zealand who comes to Barcelona to teach English- something he has always wanted to do since adolescence but has been frustrated since he married young. His chapters (written in third-person) come interspersed among Lily's and at first I wondered how Jack's story relates to Lily's in any way as the story progresses. Jack is very likeable because of how down-to-earth he is and I found him a great supporting character to the main story despite how random his introduction seems to be at the start of the book- once the characters become connected you do understand why Emily Barr writes Jack in the way she does!
'The First Wife' was definitely an enjoyable read. If you want a contemporary summer read that's more substantial than your typical chick-lit then you will definitely enjoy this. I liked this book a lot and I will certainly look twice the next time I come across an Emily Barr novel!
(Review also on ciao under the username Anti_W, and my book blog 'Tales of Antonia'.)
Summary: An excitable novel from Emily Barr. Recommended.