With “The Younger Wife,” Sally Hepworth has created a story that at first seems like a simple tale of an older, wealthy man marrying a much younger woman—she is actually younger than his two daughters. To do so, he must divorce their mother who is suffering from dementia. They are devastated and prepared to hate the new “younger wife.” But Hepworth’s talent is in making this seemingly innocuous novel one that grows and becomes more complex the further you read.
Are any of the members of this family, including the member-to-be, really who they appear to be? Rachel, who is stunningly beautiful, hasn’t dated since she was sixteen. At that time, she stopped running for exercise and began cooking and baking. And eating those delectable sweets. Her sister, Tully, is happily married with two adorable sons. But is her life really as seemingly perfect as it appears? It most definitely is not.
And even Pamela, their mother, has her secrets. Because she is suffering from dementia, her daughters don’t know exactly whether the stunning—and damning—statements that she utters are from her deranged mind or truths that she never dared share before. And Pamela’s replacement, young and lovely Heather, is definitely not who she appears to be.
These women cluster around Stephen as the wedding approaches, and we slowly learn more and more about the secrets they all keep from each other. In fact, Stephen is the only person we don’t hear from. The narrative is written from the points of view of Heather and Stephen’s two daughters. We also hear from an at first unknown narrator who tells part of the story in first person narrative, beginning with an incident that happens during the wedding. There is an act of violence, but we don’t know who was the perpetrator or who was the victim until the very end of the novel. And what Hepworth shares about who the perpetrator was is both quite revealing and at the same time an anticlimax as well.
It’s difficult to really review a novel when there is so much that can’t be shared because I don’t want to spoil it for readers. Suffice to say that it’s about families, family secrets, and family dynamics, and how seemingly “perfect” families can be far from that. It’s about the secrets that parents and children keep from each other, and how easily manipulated we are because of our normal doubts and insecurities. If something happens that doesn’t fit the general narrative, we don’t discount the general narrative, we discount what we ourselves saw. And Hepworth points this out beautifully.
Because of the issues raised in this novel, it would be a fabulous book club book. It raises subjects that will engender much discussion and perhaps a bit of controversy. It’s a book that you won’t be able to put down–especially toward the end. Enjoy.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by St. Martin’s Press, the publisher, for review purposes.