Title: The Soulmate
Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: April 4, 2023
Length: 336 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Get ready for a thrilling, addictive novel about marriage, betrayal, and the secrets that push us to the edge in Sally Hepworth’s The Soulmate.
There’s a cottage on a cliff. Gabe and Pippa’s dream home in a sleepy coastal town. But their perfect house hides something sinister. The tall cliffs have become a popular spot for people to end their lives. Night after night Gabe comes to their rescue, literally talking them off the ledge. Until he doesn’t.
When Pippa discovers Gabe knew the victim, the questions spiral…Did the victim jump? Was she pushed?
And would Gabe, the love of Pippa’s life, her soulmate…lie? As the perfect facade of their marriage begins to crack, the deepest and darkest secrets begin to unravel.
I’ve read all but one of Sally Hepworth’s novels by now, and when I look back at my ratings and reviews, I can see that her books are either big hits for me (especially The Good Sister and The Things We Keep) or so-so reads that I could have done without. Sadly, The Soulmate falls into the latter category.
Content warning: Suicide is a recurring topic in this book, as are mental health concerns, diagnoses, and treatments. I would not recommend this book for readers for whom these topics might be triggering.
In The Soulmate, two different women narrate a dramatic occurrence, what happened before, and what happens next. Oddly, one of these two women is already dead when we meet her as a narrator, and she tells her side of the story from her afterlife.
Pippa lives with her gorgeous, wonderful husband Gabe in a cottage by a cliff’s edge. It’s a beautiful location, but with a downside — the cliff facing their home is known locally as The Drop, and it’s a spot that’s known for its number of suicides. Once they move in, Gabe keeps an eye on the cliff, and in the year they’ve been there, has managed to talk seven different people away from the edge with his calm, caring approach. He’s a local hero.
But everything changes when a woman on the cliff doesn’t step away. Pippa comforts Gabe, assuring him that he did all he could. But something nags at Pippa — what she saw and the way Gabe described it to police don’t quite match up.
The woman who died is Amanda, and she shares her story as well, going back to the early days of her own marriage. As the story progresses, we see how Amanda and her husband Max are connected to Pippa and Gabe. There are dark secrets, and clearly there’s more to Amanda’s death than meets the eye.
I found the characters very hard to relate to or even care about. Pippa is the only decent one in the mix, although Amanda isn’t a bad person necessarily — but she does allow herself to turn a blind eye to all sorts of shady and criminal business dealings and enjoy the lifestyle funded by Max’s success.
The more we learn, the harder it is to fathom why Pippa would remain in her marriage, and it’s frustrating to see how her protective parents and sister wait until much too late to actually share with her what they observe.
The twists and turns in the plot felt like cheap shock devices to me, and the big reveal at the end did not satisfy me. Being vague here, but a fact that should have been redemptive doesn’t override the fact that some of these people did or were responsible for awful things.
I’m not typically a reader of thrillers, but once in a while, if the plot twists are new and surprising, the writing is great, and the characters can make me care, I’ll find myself enjoying them. Sadly, that isn’t the case here. Even the writing has some strange, jagged edges. For example, when Pippa is asked whether her two little girls are twins, she replies that they’re “Irish twins […] born less than a year apart”. Maybe it’s me, but I’ve never heard that phrase before, and there’s no reason for it — it feels derogatory, and a weird way to describe one’s own children.
Pippa is a lawyer, clearly very intelligent, yet she acts as if she has no clue about many things, including Gabe’s business dealings:
I never asked too many questions about his work. The truth was, I had only the most rudimentary understanding of what Gabe did, and when he talked about it I understood less rather than more.
Then there’s the whole issue of Amanda’s narration from the great beyond. It’s weird and off-putting; at the end she states that after death, she could now see “the whole scene unfurl” regarding events she hadn’t known prior to death — so death makes someone omniscient? Such a strange way to reveal backstory and secrets.
The Soulmate tries, I think, to illustrate deep truths about marriage, trust, and fidelity, but on the whole, it misses the mark. Yes, the book held my attention, but I felt that there were too many false notes and much too much obliviousness to make any of it believable.
I’ve given The Soulmate 3-stars, but that may be overly generous. It’s a quick, compelling read, but at the end of the day, I found it unsatisfying.