Selena and her husband have been happily married for close to thirty years and have three children. Lottie and her husband have been married for seventeen years and have one teen-aged daughter. Both women wish their husband could be home more often, but understand that his demanding job is important to him. Both look forward to the moment when he walks back in the door after his latest business trip to Dubai.
And both show up as the newly bereaved widow when Simon Busfield is laid to rest after a fatal drowning.
Yes, Simon was a busy guy. He lived in London with Selena in a beautiful, posh home, keeping Selena in fashionable clothing and expensive getaways to their house in Tuscany. Simon also lived with Lottie in a smaller flat, after living with her in Dubai for most of their marriage. Wife #1 knew nothing of wife #2, and vice versa. But an untimely death lets out all the secrets, and to say that chaos ensues is an understatement.
I’ll be honest: My first thought upon reading the synopsis was “Hmm. Sounds like a Lifetime movie.” I’m pleased to say that War of the Wives is a lot more than that.
In War of the Wives, author Tamar Cohen skillfully gives each wife a voice that’s distinct and true. We often get both women’s viewpoints on the same situation, and it’s enlightening to see how two people can interpret a statement or gesture so very differently. In what must be a very difficult feat, the author creates two sympathetic characters, almost daring us to take sides. And the truth is, it’s really impossible. Neither woman is culpable. Lottie didn’t know she was sleeping with a married man. Neither intentionally set out to steal the other’s husband. The guilty party here is Simon, but he’s no longer around to blame, so of course it’s the women who have to pick up the pieces.
There’s plenty of pain and remorse, doubts and anger. Both women remember Simon as a loving husband and father. Was one life a lie? Can Simon be faulted for loving both of his families so much that he couldn’t give either up? (Of course he can! Selfish beast.)
Selena and Lottie are wrecked not just emotionally, but financially too. The homes, the lifestyles, the luxuries all have to go. The legalities and taxes and mortgages are so intertwined that neither woman can walk away from the other, and so they have to navigate their post-Simon lives together, hating it every step of the way.
I do feel that the title of the book is a bit misleading. When I first saw the title War of the Wives, I expected cat fights, public scenes of bitchiness, scheming and nastiness. But that’s not what happens. The book ultimately is less about two women battling each other and more about them figuring out how their lives took such wrong turns and how to rebuild.
There’s a mystery here too: Simon died under suspicious circumstances — did he really just fall into the river, or did he commit suicide? Or was he pushed? Just what sort of shady business dealings was he involved in? Who keeps sending Selena all these random spam texts and emails? Who broke into Lottie’s flat? It all comes together by the end, and it definitely was not what I expected… which is a very good thing.
I love a book that keeps me guessing, that gives me plenty of clues but none that make an outcome obvious. The inner lives of Selena and Lottie are fascinating to read about, and I was invested in both women, their struggles to rebuild, to be good mothers, and to stand on their own two feet. Because they really were the victims of their husband’s deceptions, it’s easy to relate to both women and want both to find happiness and get a fresh start.
War of the Wives is a compulsively readable novel with a dark streak amidst the scenes of domesticity. I enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the unexpected plot twists. Author Tamar Cohen does a great job of taking a melodramatic, seemingly made-for-TV set-up and giving it an original spin that keeps the reader guessing.
Final note: Tamar Cohen is a new-to-me author, but I’ve now heard from other bloggers that she has some other can’t-miss books as well — and I’m looking forward to checking them out!
Title: War of the Wives
Author: Tamar Cohen
Publication date: January 27, 2015 (originally published in UK in 2012)
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Mira via NetGalley