The back of The Silent Wife screams: “Suspense! Suspense! Suspense!” There’s the comparison to Gone Girl, which is so overused that it’s almost required on any new book involving marriage and murder. Then there are the reviews by other respected mystery authors:
“Better than Gone Girl,” says Sophie Hannah
“Left me almost breathless as I raced toward the devastating finale,” says S.J. Watson
“I couldn’t put this book down,” says Elizabeth George
“I love books where I can’t guess the outcome,” says Kate Atkinson
With all this praise, I picked up this paperback on a rainy afternoon, eager to escape into a thriller that would swallow up my day and give me a break from my own thoughts. But The Silent Wife doesn’t let you out of your head — it drills down into it. With the whodunit solved within the first two pages, I thought the suspense would be in the way the murder was executed (pardon the pun), but that, too, was a letdown.
That’s not to say The Silent Wife isn’t a good book, because it is. It’s a character study of two people, Jodi and Todd, who both repress their difficult memories deeply in order to live ordinary lives. They struggle so hard to keep their problems from rippling the surface of their placid life together that, when they’re forced to start dealing with their problems, they’re completely unequipped. The result is a wave that breaks over not only their relationship, but also the lives of most everyone they love.
The slow pace of the book makes sense as a study of emotional fracturing, which is probably exactly what author A.S.A. Harrison wanted — it’s methodical, but it’s not boring. The problem is, I picked this book up as escapism, because that’s what the cover promised. I wanted a psychological thriller, not a meditation on psychology.
I understand the temptation to leverage the sales of a popular title like Gone Girl into promotion for another book. It’s easy shorthand, and sometimes it works (Divergent is like Hunger Games, City of Bones is like Twilight, The Dinner actually is a lot like Gone Girl, etc.). But comparing a book with another that’s actually quite different in tone and pacing is doing everyone a disservice. You might sell a book that way, but you won’t gain a reader.
P.S. If you’re a woman reading this book in public, also be prepared to have several men interrupt your reading to say, “The Silent Wife, that’s the way it oughta be, heh heh heh.” Let’s hope they’re all kidding.