My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I have died. Cecilia Fitzpatrick finds a letter addressed to her from her husband instructing her to open the letter upon his death tucked amongst tax returns and receipts from the past twelve or so years of their marriage. Assuming her unorganized husband forgot to pass the letter along to their solicitor, Cecilia is unable to fathom what John-Paul could possibly have to say that she doesn’t already know and dying to answer the letter.
But she respects her husband’s request she leave the letter unopened and, instead, channels her attention towards the activities at their three daughters’ school where Rachel Crowley works part-time as a receptionist and Tess O’Leary has just enrolled her son in Grade One with Cecilia’s daughter, Polly. Rachel, for her part, focuses her attention on her young grandson, Jacob, as a way to cope with the unsolved murder of her daughter yet has recently learned that her grandson and her son will be moving to New York City soon. Meanwhile, Tess is trying to escape her demons in Melbourne; demons in the shape of her husband and her cousin, Felicity, who recently sat her down to explain that they are in love but would like to live in Tess’ house as one big, happy family.
The connections between these three characters are tenuous, at best, and remain as such until the very end of the novel; a mystery to keep the reader engaged after the more immediate mystery of what John-Paul wrote in his letter and why he kept its content a secret for over a decade is solved. The best way I can think to describe this novel is like a puzzle whose pieces are dolled out slowly leaving the reader unable to construct a whole corner or even an outline of the puzzle’s picture.
Such structure maintains the intrigue of the story until the end but also made for a rather frustrating experience, particularly when Cecilia finally opens the letter only for its contents to be withheld from the reader for a few more chapters as Moriarty turns her attention to the current state of the other characters. Scenes and characters, particularly those involving Tess O’Leary and her mother, are not necessary to the central story and could have easily been cut from the novel.
I am terribly, terribly troubled by the ending and cannot discuss my thoughts on the novel without zeroing in on the conclusion and the epilogue of the novel. At one point, Rachel muses on her belief that another version of her life — one where her daughter Janie was never murdered — runs parallel to the life she currently lives. Moriarty attempts to seize on this idea in the epilogue of her novel explaining how, if Janie had not been murdered, she would have married her murderer and how, if Rachel had not hit Polly with her car, the little girl would have received a tennis racket for her seventh birthday and gone on to, presumably, win the Australian Open. By the time I reached the epilogue, I was still reeling from Moriarty’s suggestion of how Janie is to blame for her own death due to her insistence on playing it safe with love.
A deplorable suggestion, in my opinion, taken even further by the idea Janie would marry her murderer; a deplorable suggestion that seriously compounded my enjoyment of this novel and makes me leery about picking her latest novel, which I have been told focuses on domestic violence, for book club in March.
- Moriarty, Liane. The Husband’s Secret. Read by Caroline Lee. New York: Dreamscape Media, 2013. Audiobook. 13 hours, 45 minutes. ISBN: 9781624068812. Source: Library.