The First Wife by Emily Barr

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The First Wife by Emily Barr

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Yet another dark and intriguing but amazingly absorbing read from Emily Barr. This one includes a jaunt to Spain for a change.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Headline Review
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0755351374

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Lilybella Tatiana Blossom Button (who thankfully – for our sake as well as hers – goes by a simple Lily) has had an upbringing almost as unconventional as her name. Raised by her grandparents, we join her following their recent deaths and soon discover she is quite unlike most other 20 year olds. It's going to be a brisk transition from a sheltered life in a small cottage, nursing elderly relatives to the Real World but with no money to speak off, she’ll have to pull herself together, and quickly. Her background is an important part of Lily and contributes enormously to her trusting and a little immature personality that will later be her downfall. A few weeks later, though, and things are looking up. She has taken a room in a house where she is much more one of the family than just a lodger. She’s found some cleaning work and, even more exciting, one of her agency clients is a rather dashing ex-celeb and his beautiful, elegant wife. Yes, Lily’s star is definitely on the rise.

At Christmas, everything changes. The beautiful and elegant wife dies in tragic circumstances. The dashing ex-celeb is devastated until the unexpected happens and, after a reasonable period of mourning (this is, despite its storyline, a wonderfully realistic book for the most part, from a writer who always produces such) he begins to put his life back together. Lily plays a key role in his recovery and soon there is, as the title suggests, talk of her becoming a wife – a ‘’second’’ wife, stepping into the shoes of the first. It may seem quick, but due to his fame and charisma, she is not being discouraged by her adoptive family, the people who, I thought, should have known better.

In some ways the story is very reminiscent of Barr's release before this, The Perfect Lie, in part because of the relationships between the characters (young naive girls, controlling older men). But though the characters may be naive and uneducated and distinctly unworldly, they are still smart enough to sense when something is not quite right. Plus, their striving for a better life is clear, as is their idea of what that entails: I love how one of the first things Lily does is apply for a passport. With no actual plans for the future, she still knows that at some point she’ll not only want to leave Cornwall, but leave the whole country too.

Jack is an interesting character. He's clearly needed as a conduit towards the end of the story, but rather than have just anyone, a rather tenuous link he might have to Lily's past is hinted at. Maybe it’s a bit over the top, or rather unlikely, but because by the time it emerges we've already got to know him – a man who, for all their differences, is in some ways just as much a scared country mouse as Lily is – it's not that important.

Emily Barr's 'thing' is superb, detailed mysteries that need to be unwound carefully with the knots picked out, invariably with a dark twist. Either I’m becoming cleverer in my advancing age, or the clues are a smidge less subtle because there were a few things I pounced on. I had a good clue about what had happened to Lily's parents, and I knew what had really happened to Sarah before we all found out the how and why. At the same time it in no way affected the likeability of the story. One thing I admire about Barr’s writing is the way you can fall into it from the very first page. The build up is an interesting and engaging as the climax and they're definitely not the type of books you need a while to get into.

I thought as I read it that it was a little rushed towards the end, and too skewed towards time in the UK, but I think I was just excitedly reading faster as I neared the final pages, because looking back a good quarter of the pages take place in Barcelona after all. Needless to say, I flew through this book. Despite the heroine comparisons to the earlier work, it was still a fresh, new story where the fine details weren’t immediately obvious, even if the wonderfully dark undertones were showing from early on. The story doesn’t so much flow as gush through the pages, with the reader caught up in the current, and my main disappointment at the end was that, with the usual annual release, I have another year to wait until I can see what Barr comes up with next. As I read I don’t nitpick as I might have done here. I don’t think about it as a tale that has been written and could be mildly improved. As I flick through the pages I’m absorbed in a story that has, for my intents and purposes, actually happened, and is being retold for my benefit, and to do so is thoroughly enjoyable.

Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.

Once you've read this and are looking for something else, we’re going to send you straight back for some more Barr: she’s ‘’that’’ good. Bookbag had the pleasure of reviewing – and recommending – both The Sisterhood and The Life You Want so do have a look.

Buy The First Wife by Emily Barr at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The First Wife by Emily Barr at

Buy The First Wife by Emily Barr at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The First Wife by Emily Barr at


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