Saturday, April 19, 2014

391 (2014 #19). The Husband's Secret

by Liane Moriarty,
read by Caroline Lee

This book was just published in July 2013 and isn't out in paperback yet, so technically, it didn't meet the requirements for our book club meeting this past Tuesday.  My public library's copy was checked out, the audio edition in their digital collection would not work on my device, and I was unable to get the book through interlibrary loan before our book club meeting.  Since I had a big road trip coming up (12+ hours on the road in one week, the week before book club), I finally signed up for a free 30-day Audible.com trial membership and downloaded this book to listen to during my travels.  Therefore, I'll be reviewing both my experience with Audible.com as well as this book.

What would you do if you found a letter secreted by your still-living spouse and marked "to be opened only in the event of my death"?  That's the question that confronts superwoman Cecilia Fitzpatrick at the beginning of this contemporary realistic fiction novel.  Married to the handsome John-Paul and with three daughters ages 6-12, 40-something Cecilia has a successful Tupperware business and is recognized as a leader in the parent organization of her daughters' Catholic school, St. Angela's, in Sydney, Australia.

Meanwhile, over in Melbourne, thirty-something Tess O'Leary's husband Will has a secret too - he's fallen in love with Tess' formerly-fat first cousin Felicity.  Tess decides to take their six-year-old son Liam with her to Sydney to help her mom Lucy, who's broken her ankle, while she decides what to do next.  She enrolls Liam in St. Angela's and runs into its P.E. teacher - an old flame of hers, Connor Whitby.

The school secretary at St. Angela's is sixty-something Rachel Crowley, who still mourns the murder of her teenage daughter Janie 28 years earlier.  Rachel is convinced that Rachel's boyfriend at the time, Connor Whitby, is the one who did it.  Rachel is also dealing with the proposed move of her son Rob and his career-driven wife to New York - taking Rachel's only adored grandson Jacob with them.

You might have a hint now of what the big secret in the letter is, but I won't spoil it.  Suffice to say there's a shocking twist near the end of the book, and an even more surprising epilogue.  The chapters in the book alternate viewpoints between Cecilia, Tess, and Rachel (but in third person, past tense), with occasional interspersion of chapters dated April 6, 1984, chronicling the last day of Janie Crowley's life.  Other than those flashbacks (and others involving the Berlin Wall, with which Cecilia's daughter Esther is currently obsessed), all the events in the book take place in the week leading up to and including Easter Sunday.   (It's also kind of neat to realize Easter falls in the autumn in Australia.)

I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I would.  While parts of the plot strained credulity, the choices made by Cecilia, Tess, and Rachel can generate excellent discussions in a book club.  The characterizations of these three women were excellent.  I could really relate to each of them, and Tess in particular.  While I might not agree with all of their choices, I could at least understand why they made them.  I also like the way author Liane Moriarty worked in the myth of Pandora.  Ethics and morals, betrayal and forgiveness, and grief and guilt are major and thought-provoking themes in this book.  I would definitely read another book by this author.

I'd also gladly listen to another audiobook narrated by acrtress and writer Caroline Lee.  Her Australian accent was delightful, and perfect for a story set in that country.  Although she didn't attempt to create unique "voices" for each character, little nuances in her presentation helped flesh out Cecilia, Tess, and Rachel more fully, at least for me.

As for Audible.com - since it's an Amazon company, this audiobook worked great on my Kindle.  I did have to use an earphone on one ear as the volume of the Kindle speakers was not loud enough to be heard over road noise.

One of the features I really liked with Audible.com was the ability to change the speed at which the audiobook played.  I was a little concerned about whether or not I'd be able to finish this normally-13.75-hour audiobook in time for my book club meeting.  So I increased the speed to 1.5 times the normal rate. This worked fine with Caroline Lee's voice, maybe even made the book a little better, but it might not work for all narrators.  I also liked the feature that allowed me to "rewind" 30 seconds (multiple times if need be) to catch a part I missed or wanted to listen to again.

Still - the kind of audiobooks I like to listen to are still readily available on CD at libraries, so at $14.95 a month, I'm not likely to keep my Audible membership.  I would pick it up again though if I needed to listen to a particular book by a deadline and couldn't get the audio any other way.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook was obtained during a 30-day trial from Audible.com.  A print copy for review was borrowed and returned through interlibrary loan.]

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