What hap­pens when good women fall for bad men

Two con­tem­po­rary Irish novels por­tray how pub­lic per­fec­tion of­ten masks what goes on be­hind closed doors, writes

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BOOKS -

IF there is one thing you can de­pend on con­tem­po­rary fic­tion for — it is to re­flect the con­cerns of mod­ern women. One of the themes in Faith Ho­gan’s My Hus­band’s Wives (Aria €11.99) is do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. When Paul Starr, Ire­land’s lead­ing car­di­ol­o­gist, dies in a car crash, he leaves be­hind not just one, but three wid­ows. Older posh Evie, clever and beau­ti­ful painter Grace, and glam­our model An­nalise. De­spite the fact that Paul is so well known, he has man­aged to dupe Grace and An­nalise into think­ing they were in valid mar­riages with him. At the time of his death, he has three chil­dren; teenage Delilah with Grace, and two small sons with An­nalise. He has moved out with the lat­ter and is in a car with a young preg­nant Ro­ma­nian wo­man, Ka­sia, when the fa­tal ac­ci­dent oc­curs. Is Ka­sia his lat­est love? Is the baby his?

If you ap­proach My Hus­band’s Wives as a fairy story, then you may be able to read it with some en­joy­ment. All four women are noth­ing short of saints — when they find out that Paul has duped them all, they are only mildly shocked. In­stead of be­ing (rightly) an­gry, they in­stead moon about, miss­ing him ter­ri­bly and lament­ing the pass­ing of such a fine, lov­ing man. Grace and Evie unite to or­gan­ise Paul’s fu­neral “they both put Paul first — in life as in death”. The three ‘wives’ all rally around Ka­sia, and her preg­nancy gives them all a fo­cus (they’re all re­mark­ably san­guine that she is pos­si­bly car­ry­ing his child).

Ka­sia lives in ter­ror of her abu­sive ex-boyfriend Vasile. The three ‘wives’ are all full of right­eous in­dig­na­tion about the way Vasile has treated poor Ka­sia — Vasile is phys­i­cally abu­sive, con­trol­ling and co­er­cive. Yet, amaz­ingly, none of these sup­pos­edly in­tel­li­gent women ac­knowl­edges that Paul, who kept his life com­part­men­talised and his off­spring apart, was just as con­trol­ling and co­er­cive as the two-di­men­sional Vasile. While Paul had moved on with his life, he en­sured that the ‘wives’ didn’t. The story is told from the per­spec­tive of all four women but un­for­tu­nately the voices of the nar­ra­tors all sound ex­actly the same. Pre­dictably, the women all move for­ward to­wards both a col­lec­tive and in­di­vid­ual happy end­ing (like a good fairy tale gen­er­ally does). There is a de­cent twist to­wards the end — one which I didn’t see com­ing but, un­for­tu­nately, it just en­trenched my views about the late, lam­en­ta­ble Paul.

By con­trast, The Wo­man at 72 Derry Lane by Carmel Har­ring­ton (Harper Collins €11.99) gives a nu­anced view of both the per­pe­tra­tor and the vic­tim of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. Stella has been mar­ried to per­fec­tion­ist Matt for a year and he con­trols ev­ery as­pect of her life, from fi­nances to diet to in­ter­net ac­cess. No mat­ter how hard Stella tries to meet Matt’s stan­dards, she fails and pays the price by be­ing se­verely beaten.

Groom­ing is a word usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with chil­dren but do­mes­tic tyrants also groom their vic­tims, erod­ing their sense of self and self-es­teem un­til they are ren­dered help­less. Har­ring­ton has ob­vi­ously done her re­search and man­ages to por­tray the an­swer to that end­less ques­tion from out­siders:“why does she stay?”

The cou­ple live next door to Rea who suf­fers from ago­ra­pho­bia so se­vere that she has to pay a neigh­bour’s child to bring her bins to the garden gate. Once Rea was hap­pily mar­ried and had two chil­dren, but now she is ut­terly alone and spends her days hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with Siri.

Both Rea and Stella are trapped, as the lat­ter says: “I don’t think we are that dif­fer­ent. Our worlds are small. And we are both pris­on­ers.” The two women form an un­likely friend­ship as Rea sup­ports Stella in her se­cret plan to flee her abu­sive hus­band.

De­spite the rather har­row­ing theme of in­ti­mate partner vi­o­lence, The Wo­man at 72 Derry Lane is, at heart, a warm novel. As Rea says: “Love doesn’t hurt. Lov­ing the wrong per­son does”.

Faith Ho­gan’s

‘My Hus­band’s Wives’ tells a story of du­plic­ity and loss with a happy end­ing

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