Canterbury Bells

Canterbury Bells
Canterbury Bells represent Gratitude in the Language of Flowers

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty has been billed as a great beach read or one you want to curl up with for the whole day beside a cozy fireplace.  Since we have no beach in Phoenix, it’s too early for a cozy fire, and even poolside season is over, what’s one to do?

My suggestion is read it anyway, but don’t start it if you have a LOT of things to do because I don’t think you’ll want to put this book down.  Perhaps an exaggeration on my part, but the author does keep the action and suspense moving from page one until the very last page.  It centers on the lives of three women—Cecilia, the driven and successful Tupperware specialist and mother of three; Tess, a career woman and mother whose husband falls in love with her cousin; Rachel, a widow and school secretary in her 70’s who is still grieving the premature death of her daughter twenty years ago and is now in a panic because her only grandson, who she adores, is moving to New York. (The story takes place in Sydney, Australia).

Although this description makes it sound like  “chick lit”, trust me-- there is enough suspense, mystery and male perspective to keep the male audience riveted too.

On a side note, because I read this as an “audio” book, I must say the narrator was a wonderful actor who was able to portray all the voices brilliantly in beautiful Australian accents, from the 2- year old grandson to the 70-year old and everyone in-between.  And there are a lot of in-betweens who captivated me as well as the three main characters—Rachel’s son and daughter-in-law; Cecilia’s husband, John-Paul; and Tess’ husband Will and cousin, Felicity.  Within a seven-day period, culminating on Easter Sunday, the lives of these eight people will interact in a way none of them could ever have imagined.  In fact, it seems to me that they are all main characters because they reveal so much of their thoughts as the plot moves forward.

At the heart of the story is a letter that is not meant to be read.  Cecelia stumbles upon a faded, yellowed, sealed envelope from her husband that reads,  “To be opened upon my death,” but her husband, John-Paul is very much alive.  John-Paul is out of town when she finds the letter. She does not open it and discusses the finding of it in a phone conversation with him.  He begs her not to open and Cecelia agrees to honor his wish. But when he returns home, his suspicious actions cause her to renege on her promise.  And thus, Pandora’s box is opened.

The story is told from the three women’s perspectives during the seven-day period, but includes many flashbacks which explain their motivations and make them credible and sympathetic.  Their brutally honest thought processes as they deal with their particular circumstances also make this multi-layered story rich and very relatable. 

Cecilia, Tess and Rachel are three very good women.  They have lived blameless lives until two husbands’ secrets are revealed.  Then they have to re-asses their relationships with those closest to them

There are many themes to explore:  grief, love, guilt, fate, obligation to one’s loved ones and society as a whole.  I believe it is no accident that the story culminates on Easter Sunday, a day of resurrection and redemption because none of these characters can go back and undo the damage, but must now decide how to forgive and move forward in their lives with courage and hope.

Neurotic insecurity is also another issue explored as it affects the decisions these characters have made in their lives. I think causes the reader to examine how their own insecurities may have altered the paths of their life.  This would be a great book discussion choice for all the above reasons.  There is so much depth yet the fast pace of it leaves one not time to dwell or ponder on these issues—we have to keep reading to see how it all turns out for these people.  Only when we are finished with the story can we appreciate how much there is to discuss—including ethics and morals—what happens when we find that we are capable of doing something which seems entirely out of character?

And one final theme to emerge is exploration of the   “What  could have been?”  The epilogue tells us what might have been for these characters, but also cautions us,  “Perhaps some secrets are meant to stay secret forever.  Just ask Pandora.”

Author Liane Moriarty has written four previous novels for adults as well as a series of books for children.  Born in Sydney, Australia, she earned a Masters degree at Macquire University in Sydney.  She was sitting in a suburban cafĂ© with her toddler when she got the news every author wants to hear:  Husband’s Secret had just raced to the top of the NY Times bestseller list shortly after its release.  Movie rights for the book have been snapped up by CBS Films.

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