After the unexpected death of his third wife, Maya, Adrian seems to withdraw from life much to the consternation of his two ex-wives, Susie and Caroline, and their five children. Thinking he needs a fresh start, Adrian decides to adopt out Maya’s cat and when he places an advert in the post office, an attractive woman named Jane responds. For the first time in months, Adrian begins to feel alive but Jane disappears out of his life as quickly as she arrives leaving only a mobile phone behind.
As the weeks go by, Adrian tries to track down the elusive Jane and his suspicions are aroused when his eldest son, Luke, finds a folder on Adrian’s computer full of hate mail directed at Maya. Never satisfied Maya’s death was an accident, Adrian is dismayed when he realises the content of the emails proves the culprit was someone either in the family or close to it. Who would want Maya dead?
Despite his three marriages, Adrian is convinced his former wives and children are content with their lot, and they all get along well enough to spend holidays together as one big extended family. However, the poisonous emails prove otherwise, and Adrian is determined to get to the bottom of it but can he cope with the truth?
The Third Wife is the second novel I’ve read by Lisa Jewell and while I didn’t think it was as good as The Girls, it was a quick and satisfying read nevertheless. The book opens with Maya Wolfe stumbling drunk through the streets of London in the early hours, clearly upset by something, but she steps out in front of a bus before we have a real grasp of the situation. Did Maya kill herself or was it a tragic accident?
As the story jumps forward by eleven months, Maya’s husband, Adrian, is still trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife and has become withdrawn. Realising he needs to get on with his life, Adrian decides he needs to get rid of Maya’s cat as she is a constant reminder of Maya and he places an advert in the local post office. Adrian is then contacted by a beautiful young woman, Jane, to whom he is obviously attracted and this is the first indication that he is a sucker for a pretty face. When Jane returns the following day, she convinces Adrian he is not ready to part with the cat and leaves without her. Nonplussed, Adrian bumps into Jane again when he takes his daughter, Pearl, out for her birthday but he soon realises it is no chance encounter when Pearl informs him Jane has been stalking her.
As time goes on and the mystery deepens, Adrian begins to suspect Jane may have had something to do with Maya’s death, especially after his son, Luke, discovers poisonous emails addressed to Maya but Jane continues to be elusive. While Adrian obsesses with finding Jane, he seems to be increasingly oblivious to the fact his family is disintegrating. By revealing Maya’s last few months in flashback, Jewell slowly peels back the layers of this apparently perfect family and reveals the very shaky foundations beneath which for me is the most interesting part of the novel. While most of the narrative is told from Adrian’s point-of-view, the paragraphs narrated by his children of varying ages are the most revealing and we slowly learn that Adrian has been deluding himself about the harmony within his family.
Adrian’s first marriage to Susie produced his two eldest children, Luke and Cat, but Adrian abandoned them when he fell in love with Caroline, his second wife and mother of his three youngest children, Otis, Pearl and Beau. Adrian then had an affair with Maya who became his third wife. Out of the three wives, Maya is the only one given her own narrative but this is important as Maya is still relatively new to the family dynamic and she begins to see how much Adrian has lied to her and himself. Despite this, Caroline is the wife who hits the nail on the head when she tells Adrian he needs to grow up and the actual point of the novel is Adrian’s increasing awareness of how selfishly he has behaved.
When all the revelations come tumbling out of the closet, Adrian realises he is the only one who should be held accountable for Maya’s unhappiness and eventual death. Resolving to do better, Adrian finally begins to listen to his children and mends fences with Caroline who he now believes to be the love of his life. Considering how much pain Adrian has caused, I think he got off lightly.
Although the plot is quite convoluted, The Third Wife is an easy book to read and I read it in one sitting. I like the complex characters Jewell creates and how her seemingly perfect families are slowly revealed to be the opposite.