The Woman He Loved Before
Libby has a nice life with a gorgeous husband and a big home by the sea. But over time she is becoming more unsure if Jack has ever loved her, and if he is over the death of Eve, his first wife.
When fate intervenes in their relationship, Libby decides to find out all she can about the man she hastily married and the seemingly perfect Eve. Eventually Libby stumbles across some startling truths about Eve, and is soon unearthing more and more devastating family secrets. Frightened by what she finds and the damage it could cause, Libby starts to worry that she too will end up like the first woman Jack loved…
Tense and moving, The Woman He Loved Before explores if the love you want is always the love you need or deserve.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Dorothy Koomson, and despite the synopsis, I had anticipated a fairly light read. What I got instead was a dark, incredible story that has easily earned itself a place as one of my favourite books.
As the story begins, Libby and her husband, Jack, have been in a car crash. Jack is OK, but Libby’s airbag didn’t deploy and she’s very lucky to have survived. While the crash could simply have been an unfortunate accident, there is an air of mystery surrounding the events of that day – because Jack’s first wife, Eve, also died in a tragic ‘accident’. And the police still aren’t sure she wasn’t killed on purpose.
Libby has always wondered whether she could live up to the love Jack felt for his first wife. She’s worried that she’d always be second best to the woman he lost so tragically early. Jack refuses to talk about Eve – but Libby’s lack of knowledge just fuels her unease. Perhaps the memories are just too painful… or perhaps he’s hiding something.
Housebound in the aftermath of her accident, Libby finds Eve’s diaries, hidden away where nobody should have found them. These pages hold all the secrets that Jack has never told her. Worryingly, there is also a chilling note from Eve: “if you’re reading this, it’s likely that I’ve been murdered.” Were the police right? Is Jack a killer?
The Woman He Loved Before is cleverly written from various viewpoints. At first, we mainly see Libby’s narrative, interlaced with flashbacks to how she first met Jack. Once she finds the diaries, Eve’s words take over. Koomson has also included short chapters of Jack’s thoughts, so we get to experience the emotions of all three main characters. The changing viewpoints allows Koomson to give us a perfect understanding of the feelings each character has, and the relationships between them. In different ways, I felt real sympathy for all three. Their reactions to the hardships in their respective lives are totally believable, and it is obvious how much thought the author has put into creating beautifully flawed characters.
Gradually discovering the truth of Eve’s life is, in my opinion, the best part of the novel. The secrets that come out of her diaries are quite dark, and I did have to take a couple of short breaks from reading it because I was feeling too depressed. With that said, the further into the book I got, the harder it was to put down. The gritty themes are handled brilliantly, and I genuinely couldn’t guess what was going to happen. At one particularly shocking point in the plot, I was so surprised I actually said, “Oh my God!” aloud. It was worth the strange looks.
I loved this book so much, I feel disappointed that it’s over. I almost wish I’d read it slower to prolong the enjoyment, but the dramatic nature of the story means that’s almost impossible. Must invest in some more of Dorothy Koomson’s books immediately.