The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

By Ekta R. Garg

July 8, 2015

Rated: Borrow it

A man who loses his wife must deal with the emotional consequences of her death…especially because she wasn’t his first wife. She was, in fact, his third. While the death is definitely a shock to his first two wives and the five children between them, the man starts to realize in the months afterward that what he thought of as a happy, well-adjusted extended family may be anything but that. Lisa Jewell offers readers British charm and wit in the engaging novel The Third Wife.

On the surface, Adrian Wolfe seems to have it all: a successful career as an architect at the head of his own firm and a young sweet wife. But to the world Adrian’s bonus comes in the fact that even though Maya is his third wife, she gets along with his first two wives and the five children he had with them. The entire complicated family even vacations together every year, and they meet the world with smiles and their arms around one another.

When Maya gets into an accident and dies, however, Adrian spends the weeks after her death in extreme grief. The rest of his family also reacts with shock, but when the shock wears off for Adrian he starts to notice cracks in the perfect image of his family…and the reality of his previous two divorces begins to seep through the cracks. Then Adrian’s oldest son finds something that makes everyone question the cause of Maya’s death. Could her death have been something other than an accident? Is Adrian’s “perfect” family—with stepmothers and stepchildren, with Adrian flitting between everyone like a minor celebrity—actually less than perfect?

Author Lisa Jewell injects The Third Wife with trademark British humor and with characters who will (mostly) grow on readers. At the outset of the book, readers will find themselves reacting with incredulity to Adrian’s confidence. How can a man actually believe that three women who call themselves his wives can meld their separate lives and their own children into a happy-go-lucky family?

In reality Adrian’s cluelessness becomes the driving force for the book, and the story becomes as much about his internal transformation as the mystery surrounding Maya’s death. Did someone cause her accident? Did she commit suicide? The reasons for Maya’s death seem tangential at first, but as the book progresses the reasons begin to loop back to Adrian and his family.

Readers will need to stay patient through the first few chapters and what amounts, at times, to ridiculous assumptions by Adrian about his family. Also, they might wonder whether Jane, a secondary character was really necessary, and Susie, Adrian’s first wife, doesn’t seem as grounded in the story as the others. Jewell doesn’t give Susie her due, and at times her inclusion almost seems like a plot device needed to make Maya’s death more plausible.

For the most part, though, Jewell manages to keep her story balanced, and if nothing else readers will stay engaged to the end to find out how a key plot element unravels.

I recommend readers Borrow The Third Wife.