The War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen

23rd Jan 2013


Tamar Cohen’s début novel The Mistresses’ Revenge probed the experience of being ‘the other woman’. Her latest, The War of the Wives, is slightly more complicated. At its heart, this is a novel that explores the trauma surrounding grief, loss and infidelity.

Readers will initially be drawn in by the scandalous premise: two widows meeting as they attempt to bury their husband, discovering that both were married to the same man in a juicy explosive graveside moment.

The story blooms into a sensitive exploration of the two women’s narratives, as they try to examine their lives, and the choices that led them to be duped by the man they love.

We see the unravelling of the self-conscious long standing wife with three children and a reputation to uphold, and the undoing of the younger wife, her teenage daughter left vulnerable as she discovered the siblings she never knew she had.

The children are the tender nerves of a broken home, although mostly grown, they all react in a way that is typical of their character type, and just a little too a on the nose in places.

Each woman marches a different route to resolution, one though anger and sexual awakening, the other through depression and reflection. Each challenges the other with manipulation, rehashing their history and finances and their patterns of love in side by side comparisons.

Cohen leavens her tale with a dark humour that tugs the story through the tender points, while also making it easier to forgive some of the less successfully-drawn characters who fail to bloom or come into their own.

In a society that loves to pit women against each other, we see Cohen explore the experience of women set on course to clash...It is also hard to swallow every element of the story: the plot is bursting at the seems in places, trying to contain all its many elements, leaving important threads loose, and ultimately distracting from the central story.

In a society that loves to pit women against each other, we see Cohen explore the experience of women set on course to clash: wealthy versus struggling, upper class versus wild and free, wilful versus diminutive.

A handful of clichés emerge, but what finally emerges is a path to resolution that most people will find true to the experience of recovering from a love that wasn’t what it seemed.

With an unexpected turn of events towards the end of the novel that is as fabulous as the novel’s initial premise, this London journalist shows she can weave a story right though to the last page, regardless of plausibility.

The War of the Wives is out now in hardback from Doubleday, available from Foyles, Amazon or your local independent bookshop priced at. An e-book version is also available, priced at £8.54.

Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended for: Family drama lovers, those looking for quick reads or holiday entertainment.

Other recommended reading: For more of women reflecting on their lives try Stop the Clock by Alison Mercer. To explore the feelings of infidelity further, go to Every Vow You Break by Julia Crouch.

Rachelle Thompson