Review: The First Wife; Emily Barr

A mixed blend of chicklit and psychological thriller (4 stars)

Source- personal copy

Published by Headline Review, 2011

Paperback edition- 405 pages

What happens when the man of your dreams isn’t the person you thought they were? What happens when you find out everything around you is a lie? Those are the difficult situations unexpectedly faced by Lily Button, as she struggles to uncover the truth about the man who she is set to marry, the recently widowed Harry Summers.  As the realisation dawns on her that Harry’s first wife’s death may not be exactly what it seems, Lily becomes determined to uncover the truth about Sarah Summers- no matter the cost.

I have to say that this was a much grittier read than I had anticipated, with some surprisingly dark twists. The book is really an exploration of Lily’s journey, from the shy and naïve person she is following the death of her grandparents at the start of the book and the loss of all she is familiar with, to the woman she later becomes and the events that unfold around her. I genuinely enjoyed getting to know Lily and though some of her actions were questionable at times and she did seem to be a bit too innocent for her own good (I wanted to reach into the story and shake her more than once), she was ultimately a nice person. Her flaws and trusting nature made her a believable individual, which nicely juxtaposed with some of the more ‘fairytale-esque’ incidents occurring in the plot that I found a bit unbelievable.  It does become a bit ‘Pretty Woman’ on a couple of occasions.

Character-wise, there were some really good individuals in the story that offered a lot of depth to the storyline- I liked Al and Jack, though I was confused about how Jack’s path and Lily’s would eventually intertwine, so that kept me guessing a bit. Harry Summers himself was a complex character and depicted very well. It is not hard to see how Lily was swept up in the romance of their relationship, given her upbringing and the potential that he offered. In the back of my mind, I was continually questioning if she would get the happily ever after that I felt she deserved.

In terms of the plot, I did find a lot of the earlier parts of the story to be quite drawn out. There seemed to be a lot of padding out of characters and events, though not all situations were alluded to fully. A few subtle hints seemed to be dropped about Lily’s parents for example, then not really developed; I don’t like to be kept hanging too much as a reader. By contrast, the end of the story felt very rushed with a lot of detail being overtly crammed in. This bothered me, though ultimately all loose ends were satisfactorily tied up at the finish. I just feel the balance could have been a bit better and some more attention given to certain parts of the plot.

I initially debated whether or not to give this book 3.5 stars or 4, but in the end the way that it kept me reading quickly throughout ultimately swayed my judgement and I was able to place this factor over some of the other aspects I had not enjoyed quite so much. It is still a satisfying read with some great little twists and turns and was actually quite an unputdownable book.

This admittedly isn’t the best Emily Barr book I have read (try ‘Cuban Heels’ or ‘Excess Baggage’ if you are a first-time reader), but like all of her novels it is pacey with an engaging plot that offers a real sense of intrigue to the reader. I always enjoy the way Barr develops her characters and allows you to get right inside their heads and that hasn’t changed in this book either. Looking back at Emily Barr’s reading list, I have noticed a few books of hers that seem to have slipped off my radar as well in recent years, so I will likely also be picking those up soon.

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