After 28 years of happy marriage and three children, Selina’s life in her exquisite house can be considered perfect right up to the moment the police turn up to tell her that her husband’s body has been found in a river. It shouldn’t be possible; he’s supposed to be in Dubai, so how could he have drowned in London?
After 17 years of happy marriage that produced a beautiful daughter, Lottie is horrified when an old friend rings up to sympathise for her loss and to offer to drive her to her husband’s funeral. But how can this be happening when nobody has told her that Simon is dead?
At the funeral the two new widows meet and realise how much they have in common – basically that they were both married to the same man. Let the cat fight commence!
Tamar Cohen’s second book, The War of the Wives, is a page turner that may have you putting life ever so slightly on hold as you strive to find out what’s going on, how such a situation could come about without either wife knowing, and how Simon’s dodgy business affairs still threaten his family – or more precisely his families.
The characters are a little cartoon-like in their clichés. Selina is cold, calm, and beautiful in an older ‘well maintained’ sort of way. She has an enviable and expensive wardrobe of the kind of clothes only the idle wealthy housewife can amass. She’s a model of self control and propriety, a pillar of the community and a professional wife. Lottie is a decade and a half younger, with wild untamed hair and a childlike figure and distinctly hippy leanings. Her wedding on a beach in Goa tied her to the man she now realises was not free to marry her. Her status as first wife and then widow is suddenly ripped away from her and replaced with that of unwitting mistress and now ex-mistress of a dead man and not a husband.
As you can expect, both parties gather their troops and supporters around them to fight their corners. Each woman assumes the other is at fault. As so often happens even in the more common scenario of divorces, the two women each see the other as the enemy, the wrong-doer and the home-wrecker whilst the straying male gets of relatively lightly. Selina sees Lottie as a calculating man-stealer whilst Lottie thinks Selina must have driven Simon away with her cold ways. Even with their man dead and cremated, the two women are still competing with each other.
The book progresses through what psychologists have long recognised as the ‘mourning cycle’ as the women move through the phases which apply to all losses and horrifying shocks from bereavement to redundancy to just getting dumped by your partner. They start with denial – it can’t be Simon’s body, it must be someone else, there’s been a horrible mistake. Step two is anger – mostly directed by each wife at the other, although Selina has all of the photos of Simon turned to face the wall for a few days. Step three is bargaining – Selina starts an affair, rationalising that she’s only getting her own back on Simon, Lottie swallows a mountain of pills. Step four is depression – not just for the two widows but also for their children and finally we reach the final stage, Acceptance.
Whilst the book is mostly about the two women and their reactions to the death, to the revelation that their lives have been lived in ignorance of the lies they’ve been told, and their gradual coming to terms with what’s happened, they are not the only two people affected. The stories of the children, three for Selina, one for Lottie, are also fascinating. Their reactions are sometimes even more extreme than those of their mothers. When Lottie’s daughter gets a bit too friendly with Selina’s sons, the sparks start to fly. The last thing either mother needs is incest to add on top of bigamy. In their own ways, each of the children is suffering their own mourning cycles.
Lest the book become too much of a family saga, there is a half-decent plot running through about how Simon died. Did he kill himself or was he killed? In either case the question of why remains unanswered. We learn he’s been up to no good – well it’s not easy to run two families on one income so that’s not hard to understand – so there are plenty of business lies that have been told and dodgy deals indulged in to maintain his double life. I didn’t spot the ‘whodunnit’ aspect of the story at all, probably because I wasn’t expecting it in a book that was a family saga.
I wouldn’t go out of my way to hunt down more books by Tamar Cohen but I did enjoy this one rather more than I expected. It’s a very easy read, short chapters flicking back and forth between the two women, but I was hooked enough to find myself reading it in the bath and going to bed early to find out what happened next. If you want to know how things eventually pan out for Simon’s wives and children, you’ll have to buy a copy of The War of the Wives.
The War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen
Published by Transworld Books (Doubleday), July 2012
Thanks to Transworld Books for their review copy.
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