REVIEW: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

In brief: Lucy thought her mother-in-law could fill the void left by her own mother. But Diana has always kept her at arm’s length and found fault. Now Diana has been murdered – what does the family have to hide?

The good: A real page-turner of cleverly constructed and complicated relationships.

The not-so-good: It could have all been so different if the characters had been honest.

Why I chose it: Enjoy Sally Hepworth’s novels – thank you to Pan Macmillan for the copy.

Year: 2019

Pages: 346

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Setting: Melbourne, Australia

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

I always look forward to a new Sally Hepworth novel, although I must admit that I thought that The Mother-in-Law would be more murder mystery/thriller than her previous books. On reading it, I found that I was completely wrong – it’s definitely not a police procedural or hardboiled crime novel. It contains all the nuances of human behaviour we’ve come to expect from a Sally Hepworth novel and it’s endlessly fascinating. Domestic drama at its best.

The story is told by Lucy and Diana (the mother-in-law) in both the past and the present. In the present, Diana has met an untimely end and it’s looking pretty suspicious. To understand Lucy’s complex relationship with Diana (and Diana’s relationship with the rest of the family), the reader needs to know about the various events that led up to today. As the past gradually unfolds, it’s possible that most of the family would have had a motive for killing Diana. She was a complex person with her reasons to act why she did, but she just didn’t tell anyone about them. Or if she tried to, they came out the wrong way.

Lucy and Diana are polar opposites. Lucy is hoping that her new mother-in-law will be a sweet fill-in for her own mother who died when she was young. She envisions many new happy memories being formed and is eager to start that relationship. But Diana is very classic and very reserved to Lucy’s openness and flamboyance. Lucy makes multiple attempts to try to get to know Diana but they end up in completely awkward moments that miss the mark. Whose fault is it? It’s hard to way. Diana tries her best but kind gestures never seems to come out the way she expected. A necklace on Lucy’s wedding day, a chicken at a new birth…the relationship and attempted kindnesses are never fully fleshed out resulting in assumptions that grow into grievances. It’s a relationship that could have been what Lucy wanted, if they had just been honest with each other!

Why is Diana the way she is? Her children think she can be hard hearted, but as the story continues the reader discovers the real reason she refuses to sugar-coat her kids’ lives. Is she correct in doing this? Maybe, but again it’s the lack of honesty that confuses things in the family. But honesty wouldn’t have given us such a wonderfully dramatic book. The story reveals just the right amount to whet the reader’s appetite to find out more of the mystery. It’s explosive, shocking and devastating. On the other side of things, the domestic drudgery that Lucy finds herself in is realistically captured. The avoidance of screen time that capitulates when it’s all too hard. The messy house and the chores that seem to stack up. Living to pay the mortgage. Sally Hepworth gives this domestic drama an extra edge that makes for compulsive reading. I dare you to not devour this book.

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