The Second Husband (by Louise Candlish)

I’ve very much liked the books I’ve read by Louise Candlish in the last few years, so although there were rather mixed reviews on this one, I decided to add it to my wishlist, and was given it earlier in the year.

‘The Second Husband’ is told in the first person by Kate, a divorced woman in her late thirties who has a teenage daughter, Roxy, and a younger son Matthew. Her former husband Alistair has a new wife, and they are expecting a baby. Kate’s job pays almost nothing, and Alistair may have to reduce his support to his first family. So he suggests that Kate take in a lodger to help make ends meet.

This is the back story which we learn in the first few chapters. We meet Kate as she’s considering which of the applicants to accept as a lodger, while also becoming rather frustrated at Roxy, whose best friend Marianne seems to be encouraging her to sunbathe while wearing very little…

The overall theme of the book is about the strength of parental relationships. Kate is far from perfect and gets into power struggles with both Alistair and Roxy which seem unnecessary and frustrating. She loses her temper easily and isn't at all good at relating to teenagers. She adores both her children and would do anything to see them happy. She’s not, however, at all intuitive and I found her quite annoying at times since she misses obvious signs that are evident to the reader, and gets herself into an unimaginably appalling situation, apparently with no idea that it was coming.

It’s hard not to give any spoilers, since the strapline on the front of the book essentially gives away the basic plot. I did wonder if it really meant what it implies, but that alerted me to many clues as to where the plot was going in the first part of the book. Perhaps it was meant to; it’s hard to know whether it was a publisher error, or whether in fact the author was employing the ‘unreliable narrator’ technique so that readers are well aware of what is going on despite her ignorance. Either way, the characterisation is excellent; I was rooting for Kate, and cared what happened to her, while still finding her naive and annoying. She got right under my skin!

I haven’t even mentioned the person who becomes a second husband in this novel. Even if the strapline wasn’t intentional, the title must have been. So we know that Kate is going to get married to someone, and it’s clear from the start who that will be. I did find myself a little confused at first; he seems to be an appealing person, almost too good to be true. Gradually that turns into sliminess, and in the second half of the book it delves into something approaching sordidity, although the writing is good enough, with a great deal going on behind closed doors, that it never entirely reaches those depths.

At the midway point when Kate finally realises what has been happening, I wasn’t much liking the book. I wished I had been wrong; the plot is unpleasant, and - I hope - not very realistic. But I kept reading, and felt that Kate’s character develops as she has to give up her own dreams despite being treated appallingly by two of the people she cares about most in the world. Her priorities become clearer, and despite everything her loyalty and love as a mother trump everything.

The ending is a bit abrupt after a lengthy climax where nothing is resolved. Perhaps it’s inevitable that everything comes full circle; yet Kate has moved on, finding out that Alistair is not as bad as she had felt, her sister Tash is much nicer and more reliable than she had thought, and Roxy is an adult who has to make her own decisions.

Really quite thought-provoking, and I shall probably remember the main plot for some time.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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