Review: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

Oh, the domestic thriller. Once you’ve read Gone Girl, you’ve read them all, right? Wrong. Because A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife offers up a whole new chilling and delicious take on the genre.

Jodi and Todd’s marriage looks idyllic from the outside, but from the inside things could not be worse. As Jodi heads towards becoming a murderer, and Todd heads towards imminent death, Harrison explores how the couple got to the point they are at, with the run-up reaching surprisingly far back.

The Silent Wife is unusual in that you know how it’s going to end from the very beginning – Todd will die, Jodi will kill him. Where in any other novel those actions would be the most exciting part of the novel, in The Silent Wife the best bit is the build up, and the reader’s intimate view of the destruction of a relationship.

Jodi, despite being an insightful, clever, well put together (in all aspects of her life) woman (and Stepford Wife-esque person), actually lives in a dream world. I’d go so far as to say that most of the time she’s delusional. It’s interesting getting to a know a character who is so willfully ignorant of what is happening in front of her, even as she’s acknowledging Todd’s wrongdoing (although she never acknowledges her own stunted emotional growth).

And Todd’s not much better. The phrase “having his cake and eating it” was invented for him. In fact, Todd is a more extreme, less funny, uglier, darker version of Roald Dahl’s Bruce Bogtrotter – while Bruce ate one massive chocolate cake and got lauded for it, Todd keeps going, gorging on chocolate cake after chocolate cake and never expecting to get fat.

For two grown-ups, Jodi and Todd have all the emotional awareness of toddlers, made even more ironic by the fact that Jodi is a psychologist. Her job is to listen to people and help them, but even in that Jodi just skims the surface, like in so much of her life. After one bad experience with a client Jodi chooses to just see people with “easy” problems, and see them in her own home, surrounded by her own beautiful, very superficial life. Both Jodi and Todd place great importance on physical appearance (their own, others, their surroundings), yet another sign that they prefer not to delve into life’s uglier layers – if they did, perhaps they wouldn’t have got into the mess they did.

Harrison’s book, however, does explore the layers of Jodi and Todd’s lives, with interesting revelations. As we hear more about Jodi’s past and her relationship with her family, it’s clear there is something hidden very deep that is at least partly responsible for Jodi being the way she is today. And as we learn more about Todd’s past, we wonder how Jodi could ever have fallen for him the first place, until we cycle back to Jodi’s past, and then it’s a vicious circle.

Vicious circles are core to The Silent Wife, in which many actions come back round to haunt people who don’t learn from their mistakes, or who don’t pay attention to them. “Ignorance is bliss”, to use a second well-known phrase in one review, is something that Jodi (and Todd) like to live their lives by. In the end, it definitely doesn’t work out for Todd, but for Jodi, it’s more complicated. The journey to their separate final chapters will make your heart quicken and miss beats, but it’s worth it to see two characters so unlikeable yet so addictive to read about get their comeuppance.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Headline. This did not affect my review.

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