I realise I published my review of ‘Hotel Iris’ by Yoko Ogawa very recently, but after reading a review for ‘The One Memory of Flora Banks’ on RachaelDewhurst‘s blog, I felt inspired to write a review of this book, as I missed my chance to review ‘The One Memory of Flora Banks’ when I read it about a year ago, and I really admire her writing. ‘The First Wife’ was one of Emily Barr’s adult books, and it definitely delivered.
‘The First Wife’ is about Lily Button, a young woman who has cared for her grandparents all her life, living in a cottage in Cornwall and shutting out the outside world while she cares for them. The novel starts at their funeral, and once they have both died, she realises she has no idea what to do with her life. Her parents abandoned her many years ago, and while caring for her grandparents, she cut off all social ties.
She decides to move into a family home as a lodger, and gets a job as a cleaner for a local middle-class couple. Because she has been so cut off from the outside world, she doesn’t realise that the couple she cleans for are actually Harry and Sarah Summer, a high-profile, celebrity couple, shrouded in mystery, intrigue and glamour. Slowly, she gets closer and closer to the couple, beginning to create a life for herself in Cornwall, gaining confidence as she goes, and making friends with the family she lives with, as well as Al, a man working at the local employee agency.
And then Sarah Summer mysteriously dies off the coast of Barcelona while on a romantic winter break with Harry, and everything changes for Lily. While she has always had a crush on Harry, his new-found interest in her after his wife’s death leads to more than just puppy love, and she engages in an intense relationship with a man double her age, wrapped up in a whirlwind romance with this charming celebrity figure.
But, as is always the case, nothing is as it seems. Lily starts to notice oddities about her new lover, as well as thinking that not everything seems right about the circumstances of his first wife’s death. Lily feels haunted by Sarah in everything she does, leading up to a dramatic and unexpected climax.
The book also follows Jack’s story, a young divorcé from New Zealand, who travels to Spain to teach English and to embark on a brand-new adventure. Towards the end of the novel, Jack and Lily’s stories meet, and their stories intertwine in order to create a very dramatic conclusion.
I loved the twists and turns in this book. The reader has no idea what is going on until the climax towards the end, and I definitely did not see any of it coming. There were certain details that I had suspicions about, but when the full truth came to light, I was very shocked!
This book had so many similarities to Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca.’ A young woman with clear Daddy issues falls in love with a man twice her age, a ‘perfect’ first wife who haunts Lily, and who is painted by her husband as a wilful woman, set in Cornwall, with the first wife drowning under mysterious circumstances. I couldn’t help but notice the clear similarities between the two novels. However, the two books had glaring differences, such as the ending, for example.
I also really liked the summer feel of this book. It was set in Cornwall, and I read the majority of it while reading outside in the beautiful sunshine, and so I will always associate it with summer time. It was also light and fast-paced and kept me hooked throughout, the sign of a good summer read. The setting of this book sounded lovely, and I could just imagine myself walking along the beaches of Cornwall, or wandering around Truro. One day I’m going to make it to Cornwall, but until then, it seems I’ll have to keep reading books which are set there.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Lily’s story, and the characters she met along the way were also interesting. The way in which Jack and Lily’s stories became entwined was really clever, I am really envious of Emily Barr’s writing skills! To be able to bring everything together in a perfectly formed conclusion, but also not make it too ‘Scooby-Doo’ is an amazing skill for an author, and I was impressed yet again by the surprises of this novel.
Soon I will be lucky enough to interview Emily Barr for my blog. I can’t wait to ask her all my questions. Watch this space.
Have you read this book before? What are your favourite summer reads? Do you have any questions for Emily? If so, comment below, and perhaps I could ask them in my interview!
Currently reading: ‘The Dazzling Heights’ by Katharine McGee