Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication Date: 26 October 2021
Copy: Borrowed from my local Library
Sally Hepworth fast cemented herself as one of my favourite Australian authors, and contrary to what she says in the acknowledgements of The Younger Wife none of her books have been anywhere close to disappointing.
The Younger Wife is told from multiple perspectives, on a time-loop. The story begins with a wedding, and then jumps back a year to show us how we ended up at this wedding, in this way. The story is told by 4 women in alternating chapters, where we learn a lot about them and jump to many conclusions about what is going on at the wedding.
Hepworth has created a cast of leading characters who are all suffering mental health issues, and it was a lot to keep straight and get your head around; but it all tied in together in the end.
Stephen Aston is a respected and charismatic heart surgeon with two adult daughters and a new girlfriend, slightly younger than them. His wife has advanced Alzheimer’s and is living in a care facility. The story revolves around Stephen I guess you could say, he is the character that connects our storytellers.
Tully is a wife and mother, living in an affluent suburb and seemingly has it all. Her husband is a successful lawyer and they have always been a great team, until life gets way on top of them and it all starts to come crashing down. Tully has unhealthy coping mechanisms, that she has managed to hide for two-thirds of her life, but it seems like her luck is running out.
Rachel is Tully’s younger sister, seemingly so much more together than Tully but there are things that she has hidden from everyone for decades. Her coping mechanisms are usually less self-destructive than Tully’s but when they come to a head it takes some creative thinking to get out of the situation she ended up in.
Tully and Rachel wouldn’t really call themselves close, but as the story unfolds they find that they are closer than they thought; and they have more in common.
Heather is the younger wife, younger by far than her handsome, dependable and kind new partner; younger than both of his adult daughters and much younger than his circle of friends and acquantainces.
The first meeting of the three women doesn’t go very well at all. The women feel the strangeness and the awkwardness but Stephen is determined that they will all get along, they just need a little more time. Stephen is a man for whom family really does come first, and sometimes the way he involves all of the family seems a little odd; to the characters in the story as well us to the readers watching on from outside the pages.
Heather is a lot more than she seems, she comes from a completely different world to the Aston family and she is hoping that her new life is going to afford her the safety and stability she has always craved.
The Younger Wife is a character driven story that unfolds slowly with plenty of suspense, and still a few questions that I’m not quite sure of the answer to.
Hepworth tackles a host of hefty issues in The Younger Wife from Alzheimer’s and domestic abuse to rape, kleptomania, anxiety, eating disorders and projection from childhood trauma. The list seems endless, and all issues are tackled sensitively, and came across realistically.
We get to know Rachel slowly and it didn’t take long for me to pick her backstory, it took Heather one short conversation after she got a feeling she knew what may have happened; so how is this something no-one in the family ever knew, ever considered, ever wondered at when they were a close knit family.
Actually come to think of it, it is a little surprising that no-one picked up on the biggest of Tully’s issues either. They recognised a lot of her quirks and the things that set her off, her sensitivity but not the ways in which she learned to cope with her anxiety.
The further we travel into the story, into the past, into the depths of these people’s lives, the more we are left to question what is going on. Similar to the way these women are questioning everything that they know.
I really love the arc of The Younger Wife as we watch things go from bad to worse, to much worse, to a place where these women can start to heal; to move forward and to put the fragments of information they are uncovering together and in turn to put their pieces back together.
In the acknowledgements Hepworth tells us a little about the inspiration behind this story, and I loved that story too. I love the little kernel of an idea and the way it grew into this exploration of female characters that had more than their fair share of issues but they were strong, they never gave up and they found their own ways to cope with what was going on that may not have been the best way, but it was certainly not the worst. These women are extraordinary in what they overcome but at the same time they are just ordinary women who go through things that SO many women are faced with, every day.
I am actually going to stop talking about this book, and these characters, and tell you that the only way to truly appreciate the complexities, the nuanced neuroses and the exquisitely crafted characters is to go out and get a copy to read for yourself. I missed out on a reviewer copy from the publisher and NetGalley this time round so I put it on hold at my local Library immediately and was fortunate to, I think, be the first borrower and I am so glad that I did.
Hepworth has once again written a slow burning suspense that leaves you wondering throughout the story who the bad guy actually is, and often it’s a surprise. Hepworth just gets better and I can’t wait to see what she releases next.
The Younger Wife is available now where all good books are sold.