“I was happy, I think, but I wonder now if my memory is playing tricks on me. If it is giving me the gift of an illusion. We all layer them over our remembrances; the filters through which we want to see our lives.”
Written by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, The Wife Between Us is a 2018 thriller that follows a jealous ex-wife who is obsessed with her replacement, a younger woman set to marry the man she loves. But not all is at it seems in this twisted and manipulating story. Exposing the secret complexities of an enviable marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love, your assumptions will all be proven wrong when Nellie and Vanessa finally come face to face.
With a synopsis like “When you read this book, you will make many assumptions,” it becomes far too easy to guess that a lot of what’s happening may be misleading. But the promotion for this book is all about how you will be proven wrong, so you begin to question what you are reading early on because of the premature warnings.
Normally, you would read a story like this and take it as it is, but you are told to treat The Wife Between Us differently. And that’s because the main twist is so early on. But whilst you have been prepared for it, it still comes as a total surprise.
It’s a surprise that seems so obvious, looking back at it. I was starting to get a little confused at the beginning between the two characters who appear so different feel so similar at the same time. A little annoying at first, it quickly becomes apparent what’s actually going on as the real story begins.
Whilst I really enjoyed reading this book, I did have many problems with the way that the story develops. At first, Nellie’s actions against Richard seem unprovoked. Sure, he has some controlling traits, but it’s not until towards the end of their marriage that we see Richard’s violent side.
It was if the author was trying to make us think that maybe Richard wasn’t as bad as Nellie said he was, tempting us to doubt her instead of him. She has been an unreliable narrator from the start, so it’s very likely that she could still be lying to us now. But then Richard’s domestic abuse hits the reader with the same full force that his foot uses to hurt his wife, as he suddenly chokes and kicks his wife in the ribs, instantly ridding us of any doubts.
It is this diversion that seems misplaced, to me. If there weren’t so many other things going on, then this narrative technique would have worked really well, not allowing the reader to fully know the truth and who to trust. But there’s too much else going on in this book for it to work in the same way.
Here, if Richard’s violence was shown earlier on, we could have focused on how the rest of the story was unfolding and felt some sympathy towards Nellie. Instead, we are wondering whether we can even trust her. Whilst we should be feeling empathy towards a woman in an abusive relationship, we are instead thinking that maybe she was just a little bored and selfish and that she wanted a way out without it looking bad on her. When Richard finally shows his true side and Nellie’s motives finally become clear, it all feels a little too late as I stopped feeling any empathy towards her a long time ago.
The Wife Between Us is another example of a brilliant set up but a disappointing conclusion. In the end, the explanations given for Richard’s domestic abuse are weak. Why is it okay for him to be so aggressive towards his wife, just because of what he went through in his past? This is not an excuse, yet everybody seems to suddenly forgive him. It’s as if the revelation of what happened to him in his past were enough reason. Well, it isn’t.
Instead of time being spent on Richard being made to feel bad, another huge twist is then given in the epilogue. This final twist is something else that should have been focused on more, instead of being used just to throw another shock in an attempt to ensure that its readers come away thinking about how good this book was rather than the flaws that this additional character opens up.
What would have been better would have been if, when Nellie first approaches Emma to tell her the truth about Richard, she finally gets to see Emma up close and recognises her. The two then spill all of their truths to each other, forgive each other for their betrayals, put everything out in the open and then make their plan to catch Richard out. Instead, Emma’s truth seems like an afterthought and Nellie’s motivations seem selfish.
With this rushed ending and forced final twist, I was left with so many more questions in need of answering. Who was stalking Nellie? Was it Richard playing games, or somebody else? Did we actually get any of these answers? Or did Nellie just make her assumptions and that’s what we’re left with? Nothing is given as fact, and it’s not until the epilogue when another twist comes in that another explanation is given for all of this behaviour.
The structure does become a little confusing as it constantly goes from present to past, sometimes using a new chapter to differentiate between the two but, at other times, it is just Nellie sat thinking about the old times and it’s hard to know if she’s talking about now or then.
But the biggest problems come from the number of loose ends. Maybe this has something to do with the book having two writers (How does that even work?) with two lots of opinions trying to be worked in, but the story just doesn’t feel complete. With a little more tidying up, I really think this would have been great.
I wouldn’t say the thriller is complex or suspenseful, but rather it is a mystery that constantly tricks you because of its fragmented structured. I enjoyed how this played out, but it just doesn’t unfold as well once everything is out in the open. It is twisted and fast-paced and will be a book that you won’t want to put down, but it’s just about how you piece things together in the end as to what you’re final opinion of it will be.
Whilst the book deals with themes of obsession and manipulation, I would also avoid calling it a psychological thriller. These characters may have dark pasts and they are all going through something mentally challenging, but it doesn’t explore their mental state very well, either, rather using them as means to develop the story rather than a chance to explore something much deeper.
This is in no way a badly written book or poorly thought out plot, I just feel that its efforts were put in the wrong places at times, leaving me with more questions than answers. Still, it is definitely worth a read.