No 590 The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

 

Following my enjoyment of the TV adaptation of Big Little Lies, I decided to read The Husband’s Secret, a book that has been gathering dust on my Kindle for quite a while now.

The-Husbands-Secret-Liana-Moriarti

I loved the television show Big Little Lies, mainly because it was so focused on the female perspective and dealt in a dramatic and emotional way with marriage, relationships, domestic violence, rape and a host of other issues. Accusations that is was pulpy, or trashy only made me defend it more, so I hoped I would feel the same way about The Husband’s Secret.

There are some similarities between both stories. Set in and around St Angela’s Catholic Primary School in Sydney, the book focuses on several women, all trying to have a fulfilled and fulfilling life for themselves and their families, all the while carrying their own secrets. The idea of the fragility of the façade of the perfect life and the way in which the past has a tendency to resurface are played out against a backdrop of normal everyday lives.

The Husband’s Secret is a hard book to review without spoilers, but I’m going to try and do so. To be fair, the central ‘twist’ – the facts of the husband’s secret – is not too hard to figure out, but it is the core of the book, so I don’t want to give anything away for anyone planning to read it.

The novel centres on three women. Cecilia is a stay-at-home Mum to her three beautiful daughters and creates an ordered, perfect life for them and her handsome husband John Paul. Head of St Angela’s PTA and a highly successful Tupperware salesperson, she thrives on organisation, surface appearance and order. Her seemingly perfect life belies crippling self-doubt and she is concerned about the fact that she and John Paul are not sleeping together anymore. The lack of sex is not for any reason she can imagine and it is his secret that is about to blow her life apart.

Tess has just discovered that her husband has been cheating on her with her cousin and has fled the situation to stay with her mother and enrol her son in St Angela’s school. Smarting from the betrayal, she starts an affair with an old school boyfriend as she comes to terms with what has happened.

Rachel is the school secretary whose daughter was killed over twenty years ago and whose murderer has never been caught. On hearing the news that her son, wife and beloved grandson are to move to New York, Rachel becomes obsessed with what she has lost and becomes driven by the belief that she knows who killed her daughter.

When Cecilia discovers a letter, written by her husband several years before and marked to be opened upon the event of his death, it starts a chain of events that will affect all these women’s lives and bring them together in ways they could never have imagined.

A lot of interesting themes are at play here. Guilt, self-worth, grief and fulfilment. Some storylines play out more successfully than others. The plight of Rachel, forever imagining what might have been for her lost daughter, is heart-breaking and sensitively approached, but there is a strange tone to The Husband’s Secret that I just couldn’t reconcile with the subject matter.

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Liane Moriarty

 

While the characters, although very obvious types, are well-fleshed out and believable, often their actions and motivations aren’t. If Tess is so distraught at her husband’s infidelity, why does she begin an affair only a matter of days later? Emotional reactions appear to serve plot more than character and while that is not always a bad thing, it makes some of the decisions made seem completely unbelievable.

The tone of the book is one of flippancy and amusement and at times I found it very distracting. There is some incredibly serious subject matter here and while I don’t say that the tone has to be sombre all the time, the jokey nature of the writing at times seemed incongruous. Cecilia’s reaction to her husband’s secret – which is a pretty big, pretty damn serious secret – is bemusing. What she finds out changes her entire life and affects that of her daughters, yet the jokes continue to come thick and fast. She mulls over what she should do, when in reality, she would not have a choice.

Yesterday she’d thrown up in the gutter and cried in the pantry, but this morning she’d got up at six am and made two lasagnes to go into the freezer ready for Easter Sunday, and ironed a basket of clothes and sent three emails enquiring about tennis lessons for Polly and answered fourteen emails about various school maters, and put in her Tupperware order from the party the other night, and got a load of laundry on the line, all before John-Paul and the girls were out of bed. She was back on her skates, twirling expertly about the slippery surface of her life

The book seems to be asking questions about guilt and punishment. How do we recognise bad behaviour on any number of levels – from self-indulgence to adultery, rudeness to murder – and how should that behaviour be fittingly punished? Is a lifetime of guilt a justifiable penance for a crime, or is an admission of wrong-doing a mercy in itself? For me however, the answers Moriarty gives seem a little trite.

Moriarty appears to have a great insight into the minds of self-indulgent, depressed middle-aged characters. The dialogue and dynamics between them are snappy and entertaining and the internal monologues particularly capture the random thoughts and feelings we have about others but would never say out loud.

The Husband’s Secret is an easy read. It barrels along in an entertaining fashion and I read it in a day or two. From looking at reviews and reaction on Goodreads, I know I am in the minority by not particularly liking it. Once the titular secret was revealed, the book started to lose me but it was the ill-conceived Epilogue that I found particularly maddening. Why would you create a series of ‘what ifs’ that make the main plot twist of the book a complete irrelevance? Those last few pages dissipated any good will I had towards The Husband’s Secret and that is a shame.

The Husband’s Secret has been, inevitably, optioned for adaptation and I can imagine it will work, if done in the same vein as Big Little Lies. As a novel though, I found it disappointing.

Read on: Kindle

Number read: 157

Number Remaining: 589

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37 thoughts on “No 590 The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

  1. Great review – I enjoyed this novel but I had a niggling feeling right the way through that something was just a bit ‘off’. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I think you have! It certainly felt a bit formulaic, designed to keep you reading but without really giving you the depth such a drama required. It seemed to have everything but the kitchen sink in there though, in terms of genre. Still haven’t seen Big Little Lies, so I feel completely out of the loop 😦

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  2. Interesting review, Cathy – I can see that this book was a bit of a mixed bag. I was sure I’d read a title by Moriarty but I couldn’t find it among her list of titles – which has now got me wondering as to which book I actually thought was by her! 🙂

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  3. I haven’t read any of her books, but have to admit that I’m curious to know what I’d think of them. ( I’m kind of waiting for one of my book club members to pick one for book club. ) Some seem to get more love than others.
    Did you read Big Little Lies before watching it?

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    • No, I hadn’t read anything by her. I loved the TV show and I think The Husband’s Secret could adapt well too, but the tone of the book is so at odds with the subject matter that it’s very strange to read.

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      • I had the same question, whether you’d watched ir read. Sometimes a story just seems to work better on screen than it does on the page, in the right hands, I guess. Everything you’ve said about this novel fits with my idea of her writing, but I have been enjoying the series too, so was wondering about trying one of hers myself.

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  4. Moriarty is hugely successful and it’s not difficult to see why her books appeal. However, like you, I find too often that her tone is at odds with her subject matter. I haven’t read this one but I struggled in Big Little Lies to enjoy ‘mummy snark’ alongside the issue of domestic violence (for this reason I preferred the television version over the book – it certainly did not make light of DV).
    Unless there’s anymore Moriarty lurking on my Kindle, I’m unlikely to read more – I do find her plots far-fetched and invariably you can guess what’s coming. I also get the impression that she’s straying into Picoult territory – churning out the same sensational stuff with a different cover each time. Which is fine because plenty of people love it but it’s not for me.

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  5. The Husband’s Secret was the one book of Moriarty’s that a friend of mine kept saying I should read. I did end up reading it (after Big Little Lies, and one or two of her other ones) and it’s my least favourite of all of them. You articulate the reasons why so perfectly.

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  6. Lianne Moriarty is my partners author of choice on audiobooks. Personally I didn’t get it but her infectious joy at Big Little Lies on TV hooked me in – watched half of first episode and gave up as STILL didn’t get it! So Lianne Moriarty isn’t for me ….though she’s very popular with the rest of my household!!!

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  7. Bummer, Cathy. I read one of her older books, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, which I liked. But I haven’t felt the need to read any other of her books. I’m in the minority on that, since she’s incredibly popular. But hey, at least you cleared a book off your Kindle, right?

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  8. I’m sorry you were disappointed. I have to say that I’ve never felt particularly compelled to pick up any of Moriarty’s novels, though most people really enjoy them. Needless to say, I am unlikely to pick up The Husband’s Secret any time soon now. 🙂

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  9. I really like your comments on the book’s tone. I didn’t like The Husband’s Secret (still haven’t finished it) and was having a hard time putting my finger on why. Even though Big Little Lies has plenty of flippant passages, Moriarty does a better job separating them from the heavy situations.

    Also, why didn’t she read the letter until the 30% mark? Such needless suspense since the contents of the letter were so obvious! 🙂

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  10. Great review, Cathy. I totally agree with it: It is a good book, but it has nothing to do against Little Lies. I think that because The Husband’s Secret is an earlier work, Moriarty may have been working on issues that she masterfully exlores in Big Little Lies. But, as you say, it’s a good page turner anyway.

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  11. I’ve read both this and Big Little Lies. I really loved the latter, but I found this very odd. (Here be spoilers, in case people are reading the comments). Big Little Lies deals so well with violence against women, and treats it extremely seriously. This, on the other hand, seemed to treat it with levity and humour, which is–weird. There was lots of humour in Big Little Lies, but not when dealing with things that aren’t funny. I also found the resolution of the plot pretty odd–I felt like the author wanted me to make all sorts of moral judgments and decisions that I didn’t agree with at all.
    For the record, I also read Moriarty’s book What Alice Forget and found it much more in keeping with Big Little Lies, so I think it’s just this particular book that is off.

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  12. I’ve been hearing good things about Big Little Lies (the series), so I’ve been thinking about giving it a go (although I’m watching about 100 others shows as well…). I’ve never read any of Moriarty’s books, though, but I don’t think I will now anytime soon either. :’) Too bad you didn’t like it more than you did. I do think I’ve already figured out the secret based on your review, btw. :’)

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  13. I enjoyed your book review – I just posted one of my own for the same book! I love reading other book reviews because other readers pick out different things to focus on. I had forgotten about the lack of sex life for example! I did enjoy the book, although it had flaws. I haven’t read Little Big Lies, but I might go for it next since I’ve heard so much buzz about the series. Thanks!

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