Book Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

Title: The Widow
Author: Fiona Barton
Publisher: Transworld Digital & Bantam Press
Publication Date: 14 January 2016

Twitter: @figbarton

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.

But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.

Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.

But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.


The Widowis the debut novel from journalist, Fiona Barton, and has been heralded as this year’s stand-out title, comparable to the success seen by Girl on a Train in 2015.

The book is a psychological thriller which tells the story of Jean Taylor whose husband, Glen, has been accused and acquitted of committing a heinous crime. The public have seen him in the paper, on TV, heard the radio reports and have already reached their own conclusions, no matter the outcome of the trial. But what about her? What about the quiet wife who stands quietly beside him, supporting him throughout the investigation and trial?  

After Glen’s death, the public turn towards Jean, expecting her to tell her story.  Surely she knows the truth of the matter – is he a loving husband or a heartless killer?
As a reader, I found the focus on the accused’s wife rather than on the man accused of the crime to be fascinating. I was totally gripped, watching Jean carefully for any sign that she knew about and tolerated/ignored her husband’s supposed crimes. Is Glen wrongly accused or is he the twisted monster that the press and the public make him out to be?
As the story progresses, reporter Kate Waters and Detective Bob Sparkes both contact Jean individually and attempt to piece together the evidence in order to discover whether Glen was guilty of the crime for which he was accused and acquitted.
The narrative is told through multiple voices, whilst shifting between timelines. The chapters are split between the four narrators, the accused’s wife Jean, reporter Kate Waters, Detective Bob Sparkes and even, occasionally, Bella’s mother. Jean’s perspective is the dominant view overall and told in a first person narrative, whilst the other chapters are told in a third person narrative. Using several narrators allows the author to keep shifting focus between characters, so that the outcome of the story remains under wraps until the end of the book.
I personally found it enthralling to hear the story from Jean’s point of view. I found it remarkable how Barton could write Jean’s thoughts in such a convincing way and yet still keep the reader in the dark as to how much Jean really knows about Glen’s activities. I found myself questioning Jean’s motives in allowing Kate into her home. She has shut out reporters for so long, is Kate now taking advantage of Jean’s vulnerability or is it actually Jean taking advantage of Kate’s desperation for the story…? She tells us that she almost has two sides to her character, Jean and Jeanie, and that raised my suspicions. Does she use the two sides to her personality to ease her conscience about something terrible that she knows? Despite my reservations about Jean’s culpability and the unreliableness of her narration, I found that I could empathise with the confusion and guilt that she displayed. How would I cope if my husband was accused of such a terrible crime? Could I accept that the man I love and thought I knew could possibly be such a monster?
The characters in The Widow are not really there to be liked or disliked. They are all multifaceted, with both good and bad points, leading me to waver in my feelings towards each of the main characters as the story progressed. Given Barton’s background, I believe this has enabled her to give a real insight into the perspective of Kate Waters, the reporter covering the investigation. Whilst I have not worked as a journalist myself, I found the character to be very convincing and I wavered between like and dislike for Kate, liking her personally but disliking her attempted manipulation of Jean and the situation.
I have seen mention of The Widow on Twitter for months and it is certainly a book that was worth the wait! It is a fascinating, intelligent and dark psychological thriller that will stay in your mind for days after finishing the last page. This is definitely a book that is worth a read!
I understand that the TV rights have already been optioned for The Widow and that comes as no surprise to me. It will likely make a gripping TV drama.
About the Author

Fiona Barton trains and works with journalists all over the world. Previously, she was a senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at the Mail on Sunday, where she won Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards. Born in Cambridge, England, she currently lives in southwest France.

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