The Mother-in-Law

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth features a family dynamic not prominently explored in literature to its full dimensions—the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Sally Hepworth is a master at creating intriguing, nuanced characters and believable plot events, and this novel is no exception.

Told in points of view alternating from Lucy’s in the present and her mother-in-law Diana’s in the past, the story of the fraught relationship unfolds.

Lucy had high expectations of her husband’s mother, Diana, from the moment she met her, but she could also sense she was not the wife Diana would have chosen for her beloved son. Despite Diana’s prestigious reputation in the community, decades-long marriage, and extravagant charity and social justice work, she and Lucy can never quite seem to mesh.

Diana is a complex woman, generous and obliging to the refugee families that she has devoted much of her life to serving, yet stingy with both finances and affection with her own children, whom she wants to be self-sufficient and resourceful. On the exterior Diana is poised, polite, and seems to have it all, and has raised the perfect children and maintained a perfect marriage, yet deep-seated resentments and fractures within the family reveal themselves.

These tensions are explored when Diana is found dead from an apparent suicide. The note found near her body claims she no longer wants to live because of her cancer.

However, the autopsy and further examination reveal no cancer diagnosis. Instead, the investigation of Diana’s death shows poison in her body and possible suffocation.

Who could want Diana dead, and why? Family secrets begin to surface until the truth surrounding Diana’s demise is revealed.

The story alternates between past and present, and told by both Diana and Lucy, to untangle their complicated relationship, both tense and tender all at once. There are so many nuances and gems of truth tucked into the dialog and description of family dynamics.

Readers of Liane Moriarty and Lisa Jewell will enjoy this compelling, poignant family drama with a twist of an ending.

Jenna Beers is a Library Assistant at the Graham Public Library and can be reached at jbeers@alamancelibraries.org.