The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell made a great commute read.

My first experience of Lisa Jewell was reading Before I Met You while staying alone in a hotel in Tenerife. I was lonely, and the book suited my loneliness by being heartwarming and poignant and having a plot that I needed to concentrate on.

The Third Wife has a very different feel, for me, or maybe it’s because I read it on my commute to work and didn’t feel quite so on my own. It was funny, whilst still having that poignant element that make Lisa Jewell’s books so special. I really enjoyed it, of course.

The story begins with a woman stepping out in front of a bus late one night. That woman is Maya, the third wife of a man named Adrian. She is well loved by his family, well loved by the school she teaches at, uncharacteristically drunk and the incident is put down to a tragic accident. It’s only the arrival of a mysterious woman in Adrian’s life one day that sparks any sort of suspicions.

I really liked the progression of the plot. We don’t know why happened to Maya, so all of Adrian’s theories seem plausible until we get the information ourselves. We don’t know who this woman is, or how important she might be to Maya’s story, but Adrian feels he must find her when she vanishes again. He does get his answer, but there are red herrings along the way. The end threw me completely.

I think also the title deserves a mention too. The Third Wife is a description, of course, Maya is wife number three to her happy-go-lucky husband. But, to me, it also summed up the alienation she feels in a family so loving and big, but slightly out of her reach. Susan and Caroline, the first two wives, have given Adrian children. Maya has not. And although the family are welcoming and loving and all very everything-is-ok, she never feels like she fits in. And what Lisa Jewell does with that it to reveal Maya to us in snippets. She goes from The Third Wife to a person who is complex and confused and real, all with our knowledge that she’s already dead. It’s as if we’re finding out about her slightly quicker than Adrian does as he tries to unwrap the mystery of her death. I really enjoyed that aspect of it. But then I enjoy a book that deals with the question of whether or not we can really know a person.

Thinking about it now the plot reminds me distantly of An Inspector Calls; mysterious stranger arrives to remind us how we all have a part to play in the fates and unravellings of others. But it’s more subtle than that and by the end every character has realised how they can behave in a way that takes note of others. Particularly Adrian, who desperately needed to realise that his happiness did not guarantee the happiness of others. It’s a lighthearted, funny but also slightly heartbreaking story and I wound definitely recommend it.

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