Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

In Fiona Barton’s debut novel, The Widow, the unimaginable is brought to life as we follow the lives of those involved in the case of missing child, Bella Elliott.

Barton’s detailed approach leaves no stone unturned. We witness this tragic story, told in past and present, through the eyes of all who are regretfully living the nightmare.

The widow, a.k.a Mrs Taylor, or Jeanie, as we come to know her, is a complex character who invokes pity, frustration and disbelief. Her somewhat Jekyll and Hyde nature echoes that of her husband, Glen, the main suspect in the case of missing child, Bella. It is only in the final stages of this story that their part in this tragic tale comes to light. Although I was still left contemplating the truth and the role they both played, given Jeanie’s convincing and contrasting performance as the widow.

What makes Barton’s novel so effective is the depth of character she manages to create amid this gut-wrenching theme. Understanding the role of each character and watching their experience unravel, gives Barton’s, The Widow, a documentary-like quality; each chapter offering up a new episode in this grim thriller. As a result, the reader can place themselves in the unenviable shoes of everyone from the widow, to highly committed D.I Sparkes and cutthroat reporter, Kate.

There are times when Bella’s case seems to lose its way, leaving D.I Sparkes, Bella’s mother, reporter Kate and the reader, wondering whether it will ever be resolved.

There is no escaping the mark this novel will leave. It may sound odd, but Barton’s written word somehow brings to life those all too familiar television news reports that frequent our screens.

The Widow, is already proving essential reading for 2016 and if you are looking for an addictive yet harrowing storyline, look no further.

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The Widow is out now via Transworld Publishers.

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Review: The Ballroom by Anna Hope

Asylum: a safe or inviolable place of refuge.

The year is 1911 and the UK is about to become a hotbed of industrial strike action and withstand the hottest summer on record, coupled with severe drought. The country is rife with opinion, tension and pent-up aggression.

Set in Sharston Asylum, on the outskirts of the Yorkshire Moors, Hope, gives life, love and death to the complex characters behind its walls. As you are introduced to the patients and staff at Sharston, it becomes apparent that the line separating the two is very much blurred. You begin to question who is more needy in this place of so-called refuge, the staff or those subject to life at the asylum?

Hope has so beautifully crafted her approach to very sensitive and difficult issues and her sympathetic slant means you are quickly drawn into life at Sharston, life that is grim beyond comprehension. There is, however, a chance for patients to escape the harsh conditions and for male and female to mix. A weekly dance in the ever-talked-about ballroom gives each patient a chance to be free, dream and let go, albeit briefly, from their ‘reality’ within Sharston.

It is here that our two protagonists, Ella and John, develop their very personal journey. Supported whole-heartedly by their friends, Clem and Dan, you can liken Ella and John’s relationship to that of Romeo and Juliet. A heartfelt struggle, completely forbidden in a place where women and men are segregated and where, it would seem, misery is the only emotion allowed.

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The Ballroom, Anna Hope. Released 11 February 2016

You can’t help but become attached to the characters Hope has so carefully crafted; Clem pulls on the heartstrings with her dying need for adoration, while Dr Fuller’s personal battle makes you feel for his fragile soul while gritting your teeth at his despicable treatment of patients.

Based on the life of Hope’s great grandfather, her words take on a deeper meaning and have a long-lasting impact, that will remain with you long after you’ve closed the doors on Sharston Asylum.

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Author, Anna Hope

The Ballroom – released 11 February 2016, Doubleday & Transworld Publishing.

Thank you to Doubleday & Transworld Publishing, Alison Barrow and Anna Hope for providing me with a proof copy for review purposes.