I was truly gripped and unsettled by this domestic thriller, and it’s themes of control and coercion. The author truly understands this type of relationship and the psychological trauma that slowly trickles down to the rest of the family. Sandrine is our main character, a discreet, gentle and loving woman who doesn’t want much. She just wants a loving husband, someone who wants to go to bed with her every night and wake up with her every morning. She wants someone who shows his affection and holds her hand in front of others. She’s so concentrated in looking for this, that when Mr Langois appears on the horizon, he is going to be her ‘one’. Mr Langois does offer her some of what she wants. She now has a beautiful place to live and is close to his son, which does show an element of trust. Yet, she can’t forget that this is a house where a woman went missing. His first wife was there and then she disappeared. In fact, she is presumed dead, and Sandrine, who is discreet, loving and oh so grateful, slips into the void left behind. She has been doing her best to bring back a smile to the grieving husband and little Mathias. However, he will never really be her son, and Mr Langois is not really her man. In the back of her mind, she feels the woman who was there before, the one who made this house a home and belonged here in this family, Then suddenly the woman who’s been haunting Sandrine reappears. Alive. Sandrine’s world crumbles and falls apart.
This book is both compelling to read, but also intelligent and profoundly disturbing. Whereas the first half is largely setting the scene, the second part becomes more and more chilling. We are treated to all the twists and turns related to the disappearance of the first wife while she infiltrates Sandrine’s life; what follows is so insidious and feels evil. It’s very well written, with a brilliant depiction of Sandrine’s personality change, from a woman who only wanted to have her own man to love and feel loved back, to an obsessive. The obsession is borne of her low self-esteem and could lead her from jealousy into being a full-blown monster. The story is written with waves of the worst tension, and this never lets up, especially once Mr Langois’ first wife returns and begins manipulating. The author manages to scare us without a need for physical violence, something which doesn’t surprise me as I am a survivor of coercive control. By the time I’d found the strength to leave, I didn’t really know who I was anymore. It took so long to try and put myself back together. This book has that strange quality of being fascinating yet repulsive at the same tune. I sort of felt the way I do when watching nature documentaries. It’s incredible to watch the ability of the beautiful creature at the top of the food chain, but also dreadful to watch the pain and fear of the animal being hunted. It’s horrible, but you can’t turn away. This is such an immersive read, you’ll look up from the page and wonder where you are.
Published 2nd September 2021 by Pushkin Vertigo
LOUISE MEY is a Paris-based author of contemporary noir novels dealing with themes of domestic and sexual violence, and harassment, often with a feminist slant. The Second Woman is her fourth novel, and the first to be translated into English. LOUISE ROGERS LALAURIE is a writer and translator from French, including Frederic Dard’s The King of Fools and The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths by Olivier Barde-Cabucon, both published by Pushkin Vertigo. Her work has been shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award, the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature and the Crime Writers Association International Dagger.