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My first experience of author Dorothy Koomson, was on reading one of her earlier novels a couple of years back, 'My Best Friend's Girl' which I enjoyed. Despite this, I never got round to reading any of her other novels, until I spotted this on the shelf at Asda earlier this year at a bargain price of £3. I was in need of a book to read and so bought it, quietly confident after reading the blurb on the back of the book that this would also be one to enjoy.
Libby has a good life and a lovely home with Jack, her gorgeous husband. However, as time passes she starts to become more and more unsure if Jack has ever really loved her and if he is actually over the tragic death of his first wife, Eve.
When fate intervenes in their relationship, Libby decides to find out all she can about the man she hastily married and the seemingly perfect first wife, Eve. However, in doing so, she unearths some devastating secrets. Frightened by what she finds and the damage it could cause, Libby starts to worry that she too will end up like the first woman Jack married...
After a prologue which appears to be some kind of note written by Jack's dead first wife, Eve, the story is then told in the first person with alternating chapters written from Libby and Jack's point of view, beginning with Libby. Later in the story there are also diary entries written by Eve.
The first niggle I had, was that this switching between the character's narration and the present to the past and vice versa, caused the story to become too disjointed and it didn't flow very well. It was obvious from the start there was a big secret but it was all a bit too vague and drawn out in my opinion. Indeed I really struggled to get into this book and was ready to give up on it on a number of occasions as it simply wasn't gripping me.
I felt far too long was spent on certain aspects and I kept picking it up and putting it down several times. The only reason I stuck with it was that I did still have a slight curiosity as to what the big secret was which was looming all the time in the background and the fact that I could recall having previously enjoyed a Koomson novel.
Indeed by the time I was really beginning to wonder why I had stuck with this book, I was more than halfway through and still not enjoying it as I was finding it all rather slow and tedious. Then suddenly, just as I was seriously considering abandoning it altogether, it began to pick up. It was just a pity I was two thirds of the way through it before it began to hold my interest.
From then on in, I became interested in the story and the secrets which began to unfold, wondering what the consequences were going to be for Libby. She was quite a feisty character at first which I enjoyed but this seemed to disappear fairly quickly which made her character not totally believable to me. When she is involved in a car accident which leaves her lucky to be alive and housebound due to her injuries, she finds that not only did Eve die in suspicious circumstances, but the police are also suspicious that the recent car accident may be Jack trying to be rid of wife number two and I just found myself wondering why she wasn't demanding answers, as this would have seemed more befitting of the person I thought she was.
The same goes for Jack, he was just not always believable and I did think the author could have spent a little more time developing his character too, as it was obvious he had some sort of secret or dark side which I felt could have been exploited more to make it all a little more menacing. He did not feature as much as I hoped he would and more inclusion of his character I feel would have heightened my enjoyment overall.
I felt the story flowed much better once it got to the inclusion of Eve's diary entries and the slow build up finally evolved into an intriguing final third of the book, although at times I felt that Eve's diaries, which told her story, moved it away a little too much from Jack and Libby and the present day. Having said that, I did enjoy reading Eve's story and thought these parts were well written even though her character annoyed me, particularly when prostituting herself just to buy an expensive dress she spotted in a swanky shop window. Her actions I could not relate to, as it wasn't something I could ever envisage doing, but there was something intriguing and interesting about the writing of this part of the story, which led to my only enjoyment of the novel.
The ending wasn't any big surprise but was ok and I think I was glad to finally reach the conclusion. I would rate this story 2 out of 5, which is really for the final third of the book as I did find it quite a disappointment overall. If you can get past the first two thirds of this book without yawning too much, then it is worth sticking with for the remainder.
I have been looking for a book to read which takes me into another world and gives me a form of escapism. I enjoy reading books which really take me in and I find hard to put down. This book did just that, however, I haven't finished it with a feeling that it was one of the best books I've ever read but it was perfectly fine.
I have read all of Koomson's books now so I think that reflects that she does appeal to me. All of her books I enjoy reading although none of them have ranked in my favourite reads. Her books include:
My best friend's girl.
Marshmallows for breakfast
The Cupid Effect
Ice Cream Girls
And a couple of others. What Koomson tends to do is what many authors either shy away from or get very wrong- she talks about subject areas which can be very sensitive and difficult to approach so things such as infertility, death, domestic violence etc. She always is very good at doing this and it is refreshing to see an author that manages to make it seem like it is relevant to the novel instead of being patronising or her trying to bring awareness to a subject without it being relevant.
The Woman He Loved Before
This book tells of Libby and her husband Jack. Right at the start of this book we are introduced to Libby as she is being cut out of a car crash. Immediately the thoughts that are going through her head and her fears alert us to the fact that her relationship with Jack are not quite perfect and that perhaps there is a big secret which is going to be revealed. Jack is Libby's first husband but Libby is Jack's second wife. His first wife, Eve, died in an accident which resulted in a police enquiry due to the circumstances being seen as suspicious. It is clear that Libby feels uncomfortable about the fact that Jack has loved someone else before so much that he wanted to marry her and the two of them barely ever bring Eve up in conversation.
A police woman who takes Libby's statement about the car crash raises suspicions in Libby's mind- why was Eve's death seen as more than an accident?
Suddenly Libby is obsessed with Eve and Jack's relationship. So obsessed is Libby that she finds herself re-evaluating her entire relationship with Jack. She recalls how they met, how she felt about him, how their relationship developed and how they are now relating to each other since the crash.
One day the obsession with Eve grows further when Libby finds a bag full of diaries hidden in the cellar. Diaries belonging to Eve and there is a letter too asking whoever finds them if they can just burn them and not read them... Libby ignores this advice and decides she needs some answers as to what has made Jack behave how he has and thinks that the diaries will help. Sadly the diaries actually are quite dangerous, they lead to paranoia, suspicion and sadness as Eve's life is suddenly revealed to Libby.
What I liked about the book is that right from the beginning you are drawn in. Page one immediately grabs your attention and you think that something sounds odd and not quite right so you are urged to carry on reading and that is the way it is throughout the whole book. There are many twists and turns and it does make you find it hard to put the book down.
It is written by Libby but then there are huge sections told by Eve as we read her diaries and then the odd couple of pages from Jack's point of view. Having the story unfold in this way makes you really able to relate to the characters as you are hearing the various situations being told by more than one person. I did begin to think that I knew how the characters would react to situations and what they were feeling which I think is the sign of a very well written book and a clever author.
The book told about the entire relationship of Libby and Jack and also of Eve and Jack and so as a result you really did get to know this man. The way it was written was very smooth despite it going back to Libby and Jack's past and also Eve and Jack's past, there was never any confusion as to who was telling the story now and whether we were in the present or not.
Some other characters were very interesting and made you want to know more about them such as Jack's parents and Eve's friend Dawn so they added great areas of interest.
The difficult subject areas within this book involved paranoia, losing a loved one and prostitution. The way that these subject areas were brought up and included in this novel were excellently done. Not once did I think that they were inappropriate or insensitively described. Koomson had an amazing way of bringing these subjects into the novel that made you absorbed by them and being able to have compassion and understanding for the characters involved in these areas. Sometimes I know people may find some/all of these difficult circumstances hard to read about so it may not be for you but Koomson is good at not being overly graphic yet still being able to get her point across very well.
The end of the book I found was a little rushed and I think I have said this before about Koomson's books. I think I still have a few questions unanswered and the odd loose end hasn't been tied up so I think it could have done with having a tighter ending which is a shame.
After finishing this book I asked myself the usual question; is it a life changer? I love books that leave you thinking about them and feeling the need to shout about them from the roof tops... this book isn't like that although I did enjoy it. It did grip my attention and it was extremely well written I am sure many, many people will enjoy this just like I did. I, however, think the ending was a bit rushed ans there was nothing in this book that left me completely amazed so for that reason I am giving it 4 stars.
It is an easy read insofar as there are no complicated words, long paragraphs of descriptions or complex story matters but at the same time it does tackle some difficult subject areas. I think it makes a good holiday read but is not a tacky chick lit type book. It will catch your attention and keep you reading so I think it will appeal to people looking for some action and interesting ideas.
In terms of Koomson I think this ranks up there as one of her best, probably her second best with the number one book- in my opinion- being Ice Cream Girls.
I have read all of Dororthy Koomson's books and was eagerly awaiting this one; it did not disappoint! I thought it would be near on impossible to top her previous novel 'The Ice Cream Girls' but she definately has.
The story starts with married couple Libby and Jack and we learn their story of how they met and how they got to where they are. Although this is interesting and necessary for the back ground, it really starts to get going when Libby finds Jacks late ex-wife Eve's diaries. The second section of the story is told by Eve through her diaries.
This section really had me gripped, it starts when Eve is a teenager and you read on to see her life spiral more and more out of control. You also learn about when she meets Jack and then their lives together. The story flits between the past and the present and how Eve's life and revelations affect Libby's.
A word of warning though if you're after a nice easy happy go lucky read it might be best to leave this for a day when you want something to get your teeth into. It is very well written gritty story that shows you life doesn't always go as planned. There is also a twist toward the end, which other people may have, but I certainly didn't see coming.
The only down point to the book is Libby is nowhere near as interesting a character as Eve although she really is the lead. Koomson is one of my favourite authors, however I have noticed she often writes her leads as women with low self esteem who think that they aren't good enough for anyone and also that they don't need anyone. I would like to see in her next book a lead who at least feels she deserves a bit of love.
So-called chick-lit is a genre that I dip in and out of, finding that in general it is somewhat oversubscribed and as such good novels are outnumbered by not so good.
However there are authors who provide exceptions to the rule and Koomson is one of these. She is one of the few authors in any genre of whom I have read all their novels. The Woman He Loved Before is the latest one of these and is currently available in hardback.
We meet Libby in the depths of a traumatic situation. As she slowly begins to recover from this situation we learn in flashback of how she met her now-husband Jack and the history of their relationship. This itself has not been a path lined in roses, from their obtuse beginnings to the revelation that Jack himself is a widower having lost his first wife Eve in tragic and perhaps suspicious circumstances a few years earlier.
As time progresses, Libby begins to doubt the strength of her marriage and begins to explore notions that point to something far, far darker than she ever could have suspected about Eve's life and death. These suspicions are confounded by Libby's discover of Eve's diaries which allow the whole dramatic saga to unravel.
Over the course of the novels Koomson has developed more of a tendency to the darkside of life. Her earliest novels eg The Cupid Effect, The Chocolate Run were rather light and frothy and leaned a little too much towards coincidence and superstition for my liking. Her high point I think was in the heartwrenching yet occasionally uplifting tragedies that she details in the likes of 'My Best Friend's Girls, Marshmallows for Breakfast and Goodnight Beautiful. 'The Woman...' and her previously novel 'The Ice Cream Girls' have seen a lurch to altogether more disturbing territory in the revelations that they have uncovered.
It is revelations that are Koomson's specialties to be honest. She has a real skill for creating characters that we care about but holding something back and retaining a bit of mystery that gets the reader turning the pages in order to get the full picture.
This book is not an exception and I have to say that I did find it quite' unputdownable' , finishing it in the garden over a sunny Bank Holiday morning and afternoon.
As has become another trait of Koomson's writing, she builds tension and develops the plot by telling the story through multiple voices, here mainly Libby, posthumously through Eve and to a lesser extent - Jack.
Yes, this is an engaging novel but by the same measure it is notably flawed in a number of ways. For instance, and particularly when with regards to Jack's story, the desire to provide tension to the reader is a more than a little heavy handed in my opinion. It seems that every section that comes from Jack's point of view, particularly in the earlier stages of the book, ends with him fretting about the secrets he is keeping from her. This repetition is unnecessary and actually undercuts some of the suspense, not least because one of the revelations that he is particularly worried about actually transpires to be a bit of not much of a big deal.
When it comes to the larger revelations regarding Eve, which much of the crux of the story development hangs on, well I have say that I guessed the twist quite early on. I think with a little more deftness of touch, Koomson could have kept things equally as believable but still slightly more surprising. However, I understand that this is a fine balance to tread.
These criticisms should also not take away from the fact that I really did enjoy this book. I felt engaged with the characters and really bought into the underlying darkness that existed within. Some of it is quite dark and disturbing and perhaps not what you might expect from the slightly naff soft-focus photographic cover and I think this darkness is perhaps more adeptly dealt with in this novel than in the 'The Ice Cream Girls' , which felt a little unbelievable and unrelatable at times, if not more than a little sensationalist.
Koomson is always a solid and interesting writer who has interesting ideas and crafts them exceptionally well within a story which keeps you gripped. So, in conclusion despite some grating elements I did still really enjoy this book and raced through it in no time and am genuinely intrigued as to what she will come up with next.
Ever since I read my first Dorothy Koomson book, I have been hooked on this fabulous author. All of her novels are absorbing and thought provoking and examine human relationships so well. I have noticed though, that the content of her later stories are getting slightly darker than her earlier ones. This is certainly the case with 'The Woman He Loved Before' which is her latest book which was gripping from the very first page but did not turn out to be quite the read I was expecting.
Libby is the main storyteller in this book and she is married to Jack. However, Jack was previously married to Eve who died tragically after falling down the stairs. However much Libby feels that Jack loves her, she can't help feeling that he still loves Eve more and that does not lead to a happy marriage. Her fears are realised most poignantly when, after a severe car accident, she hears Jack calling for Eve rather than for her. Faced with appalling injuries and afraid to venture out in any car, Libby is trapped in the house which is also the home that Jack shared with Eve. Although she feels that the marriage is over, she sets about finding out as much as she can about this woman that he loved before, and after stumbling across Eve's diaries, she is appalled at what she finds out.
It is at this point that 'The Woman He Loved Before' takes on a far more sinister tone and changes from being just a light and entertaining read. We get to read Eve's diaries along with Libby and what is revealed is totally startling and heartbreaking. Eve has definitely not led the charmed life that one might have expected and Libby starts to feel quite disturbed by what she has found out. Will the diaries help her make sense of her life with Jack and is there possibly a chance that she can help make amends for how Eve suffered? These were the questions that filled my mind as I was compelled to keep on reading this fabulous book.
Both Libby and Eve are fascinating characters. One can't help but sympathise with Libby's situation, particularly trying to compete with a dead woman for her husband's love. As much of the novel is written in the first person from her perspective I felt that, as a reader, I got to know and like her very well. Equally, learning about Eve through her diaries was equally revealing as that is also written in the first person. I felt quite shocked by some of her revelations but also felt that I really came to appreciate her complex character. A few chapters are told from Jack's point of view and to be honest, it is difficult to know what to make of him for much of the book. Dorothy Koomson cleverly raises lots of questions in the reader's mind about him and throughout the book my opinion swayed from thinking he was callous and uncaring to loving and warm and about every other personality trait in between!
As you can probably tell I loved this book. I just had to keep reading on to find the answers to my questions but equally I did not want it to finish. There are so many words to describe this book - gripping, poignant, shocking, heart warming - but most of 'The Woman He Loved Before' is a book that you just won't want to put down!
The Woman He Loved Before by Dorothy Koomson
Published by Little, Brown Book Group, Feb 2011
With thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.
This review has already appeared under my name at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
Although I have an unwritten rule not to buy hardbacks, they are too expensive and not as much fun to curl up with, I had to make an exception when I saw the New Dorothy Koomson book for a fiver in Sainsburys. I first fell in love with her books when I read My Best Friends Girl, and have adored every book since. Her books tend to be darker chick lit with great characterisation and unpredictable endings , and this one is no exception.
Libby is happily married to Jack, sharing a lovely home by the sea. However Libby has always felt the shadow of Eve, Jack's late wife, hanging over her. Her insecurities surface when she and Jack are involved in a car accident, and Libby decides to find out all she can about the seemingly perfect Eve. On discovering eve's diary she begins to unearth family secrets that she can not comprehend, and with the police sniffing about asking questions about her accident, Libby begins to wonder if she will end up following the first Mrs Britcham.....
I really warmed to all 3 main characters of the book. Libby is sassy and independent, working as a beauty therapist despite having a degree in biochemistry. I really liked Jack too, despite there being lots of question marks about his relationships with both his wives, he seemed like a good guy from the start. Without a doubt the star of the book was Eve. She is a born survivor, living off her wits and taking everything life throws at her, you couldn't fail to root for this tough cookie with a soft centre. We don't meet her until about halfway through the book, and she is nothing like I expected her to be. Nothing about this book is like I expected, the plot twists and turns all the way through and when you think you have it figured out it changes again. At times I found it quite uncomfortable to read, with gritty subject matter and very dark moments, however I found it impossible to put down.
The book is written from in the first person narrative mainly from Libby, Eve and Jack's point of view. It also moves between the past and the present. This sounds like it may be confusing but it isn't. Each chapter is clearly marked with whose perspective it is coming from, and is date marked if it is not from the present, with Eve's diaries being written in a different font. The chapters are not too long, which makes it easy to pick up and put down - not that I wanted to put it down! I got through the book in 2 days, and felt emotionally exhausted when I finished. I would definitely recommend this book, and this is the best book I have picked up this year but a long way!
Unfortunately it is no longer a fiver in Sainsburys, but you can pick it up for £7.49 delivered on Amazon, or wait for the paperback due to be released 21st July. 454 pages published by Sphere books.
Libby always thought that she was happy in her marriage with husband Jack. She knows he has a past with his former wife Eve, but as he's reluctant to ever talk about it, Libby doesn't want to go to there. There's also the fact that in the back of her mind that she thinks Jack is still in love with Eve, and there's nothing that she can do about it. When an accident occurs, it leaves Libby wondering even more if Jack really does love her, or whether their whole marriage is a sham. Soon, she finds out some shocking truths about Eve, things she's not sure even Jack knows about his other wife, and Libby starts to wonder if she is going to end up just like Eve too... Libby's scared and frightened and feels stuck in a circle of hell with no way out...
Dorothy Koomson has quickly worked her way up to my top few chick lit authors of all time, and I eagerly await the release of any book that she brings out, simply because they have all been brilliant and Koomson hasn't let me down so far! Koomson's books always seem to have an element of mystery to her books - we know certain things about the characters and certain events, yet there is always something in the background we don't know everything about, and this is usually the crux of the story, and ends up shocking the reader, something I love about her books. Her last novel, The Ice Cream Girls, certainly didn't disappoint on this front, and now this one manages to trump even that, I was absolutely glued to this book from start to finish.
We begin at the scene of Libby and Jack's road accident. Libby is in a bad way, and she is upset at her husband about something, but we are clueless as to what. The accident is actually a very important part of the whole book, and is constantly flashed-back to throughout the book, with the accident parts occurring in italics to separate them from the present day. Surrounding this story, we have what is going on with Libby and Jack in the present day and this was also exciting to read. Libby is a likeable character - she clearly loves her husband Jack very much but feels she very much lives in the shadow of Jack's former wife Eve. Koomson writes Libby as a sympathetic character - I felt like I was meant to dislike Jack for how he treats Libby, but for me neither of these were the best character in the book.
Eve is the one character we hear a lot about right from the start of the book, yet in reality we know nothing definite about her until halfway through when Libby makes a discovery at their home which threatens both her marriage to Jack and her own mental state. Libby discovers something that belongs to Eve, something which reveals every intimate detail about the woman who Jack still adores, and Libby is shocked by this information. The way Koomson reveals this to her readers is perfect - the whole scenario of Libby finding this out and her reactions make it all the more thrilling because I was convinced I could see how it was all going to work out, yet Koomson had me fooled once more! Eve's story builds and builds throughout the latter half of the book, sending the book hurtling to a dramatic and exciting conclusion.
As usual, Koomson hasn't shied away from a very gritty topic, and this one was probably the grittiest I have read from her so far. It's hard to review this aspect because I don't want to give the topics away because for me, uncovering Eve's story was the best thing about it and not knowing anything was a bonus without a doubt. Suffice to say, it's not a topic that is easy to read about, yet I found myself completely dedicated to the book, despite some of the more graphic scenes and nature of this part of the book. Koomson makes it compelling to read, and I felt so sorry for Eve, she is such a likeable character caught in an impossible situation, and you can't help but sympathise yet read with horror every action she takes, and you are just sure it is going to end horribly, yet Koomson twists and turns the story so much, I couldn't guess the ending for the life of me.
As you can probably tell from this glowing review, I absolutely adored this book and just couldn't put it down. It's a big chunk of a book at 464 pages, but it whizzed by for me, I was so absorbed in the story and desperate to find out what on earth was happening with Eve, Libby and Jack that I didn't notice the chapters flying by. I really liked how Koomson presented the story, with the flashbacks to the accident throughout the book keeping your mind on that mystery, then flitting to present day and back again to the information Libby uncovers about Eve. It's easy to follow despite these threads, and the stories all inter-mingle perfectly, making an absolutely stunning read. I cannot recommend it enough!
ISBN: 978-1847443564. Published by Sphere in February 2011. Pages: 464. RRP: £12.99.
Thank you very much to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com
Thank you for reading.