If you discovered a secret that could tear your family apart, what would you do? What if keeping the secret could cause as much pain as revealing it? This is the choice Cecilia is faced with when she opens a letter from her husband labelled to be opened only in the event of my death. Within it, John-Paul confesses to a tragic mistake, leaving Cecilia to decide what matters more to her: the truth, or protecting her family.
The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty, essentially follows the stories of three women whose lives intersect in a range of ways. The aforementioned Cecilia, who discovers the fateful letter while her husband is away on a business trip; Tess, whose husband Will and cousin/best friend Felicity have fallen in love, leaving her reeling and Rachel, who is reeling from the news that her son and daughter-in-law are planning to move away to New York, naturally taking her beloved grandson with them.
Each chapter is written in close third-person perspective, giving plenty of insight into the inner thoughts of these three primary characters. It’s a loose, conversational writing style, complete with tangents and fleeting thoughts, which create a strong narrative voice. I say voice, singular, because I think the most notable weakness in this book is a lack of distinction between the inner voices of the main characters. They are very different in personality, and the way they approach and react to situations is enormously distinct, so you’re not at risk of getting them confused with each other. It’s nitpicky of me, but I would have liked the three characters to have more of a sense of separate voices.
Having said that, as the story progresses and we become more familiar with the characters and the plot (or plots) tying them together, Moriarty starts to use scene breaks within chapters to switch perspectives more frequently than giving each character a chapter at a time, so an element of consistency between the different points of view is useful to keep those later chapters feeling cohesive.
I thoroughly enjoyed the characters in this story, not only the three main point-of-view characters but all of the supporting cast. Every character felt unique and vibrant, and like they had lives of their own going on beyond the confines of the story. I love stories that feel anchored to places or communities, and The Husband’s Secret absolutely fits that bill.
The moral dilemma at the centre of the story is also a knotty one. Cecilia’s anguish and total inability to work out the “right” way forward felt painfully realistic, as did Tess’s bewilderment over her husband’s betrayal and the way Rachel’s grief as a result of losing her daughter so many years before continues to thread its way through everything in her life. In each character’s individual storyline they were faced with complicated choices, and Moriarty doesn’t let them (or the reader) off with easy answers to any of them.
As morally complex and emotionally wrenching as the story was at points, it was also hilarious, with comedy woven through even some of the darkest moments in the book. It’s incredibly easy to read, and although it deals with some incredibly difficult topics it manages to retain a kind of lightness that means you don’t go away from the story feeling like you’ve been through a trauma.
I’d highly recommend this book, especially if you’re a fan of Jodi Picoult or other stories with difficult decisions at the heart of them and complex, three-dimensional characters.