Title: The Younger Wife
Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: April 5, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Thriller/contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
A heart surgeon at the top of his field, Stephen Aston is getting married again. But first he must divorce his current wife, even though she can no longer speak for herself.
Tully and Rachel Aston look upon their father’s fiancée, Heather, as nothing but an interloper. Heather is younger than both of them. Clearly, she’s after their father’s money.
THE FORMER WIFE
With their mother in a precarious position, Tully and Rachel are determined to get to the truth about their family’s secrets, the new wife closing in, and who their father really is.
THE YOUNGER WIFE
Heather has secrets of her own. Will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous impulses in all of them?
I could not put this book down… and yet now that I’m done, I really don’t know what to think!
As the book opens, we’re at the wedding of Stephen and Heather. They make a beautiful couple, and everyone is so pleased that Stephen has found love again after going through the pain of his former wife’s slide into dementia. And how lovely that he thought to include his ex-wife in this special day! But after the vows, something goes wrong in the next room. There’s blood and an ambulance…
And that’s just the prologue!
From there, we go back some months to Heather’s first meeting with Stephen’s adult daughters, Tully and Rachel. Heather is actually younger than both of them, and they’re prepared to hate her. They’re none too pleased with their father either, but they’re trying to be supportive. He’s done right by their mother, finding her a good nursing home and excellent care, making sure there’s no worry about finances… so why shouldn’t he have the opportunity for love once again?
As the story unfolds, we get chapters from Tully, Rachel, and Heather’s perspectives. No one’s life is as perfect as it seems. Rachel, a magnificent baker, has been dealing with a trauma from her teens for almost 20 years. Tully, a suburban wife and mother, has anxiety through the roof and very unhealthy coping mechanisms. And Heather certainly has not shared the true story of her family’s sordid past.
Each of the three women evokes sympathy in her own way. For Tully and Rachel, they’re dealing not only with issues from their pasts, but also grieving the loss of a beloved mother, mourning a bit more with each visit to the nursing home and the realization that the woman who was so central to their lives has slipped away from them bit by bit. Heather’s childhood was awful, but she’s built a fresh start for herself, even as the occasional doubts about her perfect new life creep in.
It’s hard to say much without giving away key spoilers, so I’ll proceed with caution. As I mentioned, I simply couldn’t put this book down, and finished it over two days of intense reading. Not that that’s surprising — Sally Hepworth’s book always bring out the compulsive reader in me! With short, sharp chapters and fascinating POV characters, The Younger Wife sucked me in from page 1 and just never let me go.
And yet… I felt oddly flat after the end. I really and truly can’t say more, but the resolution left me confused and weirdly disappointed. I need to go back and poke around in earlier chapters to see if I missed anything and reexamine how the pieces fit together.
Do I recommend this book? Yes, but perhaps with tempered expectations. Sally Hepworth is a terrific teller of tales, and she creates fascinating, memorable characters. The Younger Wife did not move and engage my emotions the way The Good Sister did, but that’s a very high mark to meet.
The Younger Wife is a fast page-turner, and I enjoyed the reading experience. Now I just need to think about that ending some more…