Fans of Liane Moriarty and Jojo Moyes will be captivated by this riveting family drama with a dark mystery at its core, from the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone.
In the early hours of a summer morning, a young woman steps into the path of an oncoming bus. A tragic accident? Or suicide?
At the center of this puzzle is Adrian Wolfe, a successful architect and grief-stricken widower, who, a year after his third wife’s death, begins to investigate the cause. As Adrian looks back on their brief but seemingly happy marriage, disturbing secrets begin to surface. The divorces from his two previous wives had been amicable, or so it seemed; his children, all five of them, were resilient as ever, or so he thought. But something, or someone, must have pushed Maya over the edge.
“Jewell’s last few novels have been a revelation—emotionally sophisticated and complex,” says Kirkus Reviews. “Like Liane Moriarty, she manages the perfect blend of women’s fiction and nail-biting suspense,” hails Booklist. The Third Wife is “an emotionally intelligent, brilliantly plotted, and beautifully written examination of a very modern family that will keep you gripped to the end” (London Daily Mail).
They might have been fireworks, the splashes, bursts, storms of color that exploded in front of her eyes. They might have been the northern lights, her own personal aurora borealis. But they weren’t, they were just neon lights and streetlights rendered blurred and prismatic by vodka. Maya blinked, trying to dislodge the colors from her field of vision. But they were stuck, as though someone had been scribbling on her eyeballs. She closed her eyes for a moment, but without vision, her balance went and she could feel herself begin to sway. She grabbed something. She did not realize until the sharp bark and shrug that accompanied her action that it was a human being.
“Shit,” Maya said, “I’m really sorry.”
The person tutted and backed away from her. “Don’t worry about it.”
Maya took exaggerated offense to the person’s lack of kindness.
“Jesus,” she said to the outline of the person, whose gender she had failed to ascertain. “What’s your problem?”
“Er,” said the person, looking Maya up and down, “I think you’ll find you’re the one with the problem.” Then the person, a woman, yes, in red shoes, tutted again and walked away, her heels issuing a mocking clack-clack against the pavement as she went.
Maya watched her blurred figure recede. She found a lamppost and leaned against it, looking into the oncoming traffic. The headlights turned into more fireworks. Or one of those toys she’d had as a child: tube, full of colored beads, you shook it, looked through the hole, lovely patterns—what was it called? She couldn’t remember. Whatever. She didn’t know anymore. She didn’t know what time it was. She didn’t know where she was. Adrian had called. She’d spoken to him. Tried to sound sober. He’d asked her if she needed him to come and get her. She couldn’t remember what she’d said. Or how long ago that had been. Lovely Adrian. So lovely. She couldn’t go home. Go home and do what she needed to do. He was too nice. She remembered the pub. She’d talked to that woman. Promised her she was going home. That was hours ago. Where had she been since then? Walking. Sitting somewhere, on a bench, with a bottle of vodka, talking to strangers. Hahaha! That bit had been fun. Those people had been fun. They’d said she could come back with them, to their flat, have a party. She’d been tempted, but she was glad now, glad she’d said no.
She closed her eyes, gripped the lamppost tighter as she felt her balance slip away from her. She smiled to herself. This was nice. This was nice. All this color and darkness and noise and all these fascinating people. She should do this more often, she really should. Get out of it. Live a little. Go a bit nuts. A group of women were walking towards her. She stared at them greedily. She could see each woman in triplicate. They were all so young, so pretty. She closed her eyes again as they passed by, her senses unable to contain their images any longer. Once they’d passed she opened her eyes.
She saw a bus bearing down, bouncy and keen. She squinted into the white light on the front, looking for a number. It slowed as it neared her and she turned and saw that there was a bus stop to her left, with people standing at it.
Dear Bitch. Why can’t you just disappear?
The words passed through her mind, clear and concise in their meaning, like a sober person leading her home. And then those other words, the words from earlier.
This reading group guide for The Third Wife includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
From all appearances, Adrian Wolfe is a successful, happy man. But when the tragic death of his third wife shatters his world, he begins to unearth disturbing clues that things were not necessarily as they seemed. The mystery surrounding his wife’s death exposes some hidden unsettledness within the family system, and casts suspicion on the true cause of her demise. The Third Wife is a riveting story filled with psychological nuance of how the Wolfe family unravels the truth of their story.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Describe your first impression of Adrian. How would you describe him?
2. One of the themes of this book is how the family system copes with the various changes and disruptions brought about by each of Adrian’s marriages and remarriages. In what ways do Adrian’s children adjust and react to each of his new wives?
3. Which of Adrian’s children do you relate to the most? Describe.
4. On page 90, the author describes Luke: “He’d always felt there was somewhere else he was supposed to be, other friends he should be hanging out with, some amazing life he was supposed to be living. And now that he was living a different life, the one he’d left behind glittered in his wake like dropped diamonds.” What do you think are some of the causes of Luke’s restlessness?
5. How would you describe Cat’s relationship with Adrian? What was she hungry for in her relationship with him?
6. Compare and contrast Susie and Caroline. What do you think drew Adrian to each of them?
7. In what ways is the “Board of Harmony” ironic?
8. What impact do you think the e-mails had on Maya and her relationship with Adrian?
9. In what ways are Maya and Luke similar? What do you think sparked their connection with each other?
10. What role does Jane/Abby play in the story?
11. On page 276, Pearl describes Adrian as “addicted to being in love.” What kept him in the cycle of addiction? What was the first step he took toward sobriety?
12. What do you think were some of Adrian’s greatest fears? How did they play out in each of his marriages?
13. Do you think Maya’s death was accidental or suicide?
14. What would you describe as the major themes of this story? Would you say it is a redemptive story? Why or why not?
15. Do you think Adrian and Caroline end up together? How would you write the post-epilogue narrative?
16. What do you think prompted the author to write this story?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. Which findings of this 25-year study are reflected in the lives of each of the characters in The Third Wife?
2. Watch The Family Stone and discuss the various roles each character plays in the family system.
3. Write a letter (that you may or may not actually send) to someone in your life (family or friend) who has hurt you but never acknowledged the impact of his or her actions. Discuss what it was like to do this during your next book club.
4. Create categories on a continuum to describe the degrees of “addicted to love.” At your next book club, discuss what keeps people in the cycle of addiction and what are some possible first steps toward sobriety.
Lisa Jewell is the internationally bestselling author of eighteen novels, including the New York Times bestseller Then She Was Gone, as well as I Found You, The Girls in the Garden, and The House We Grew Up In. In total, her novels have sold more than two million copies across the English-speaking world and her work has also been translated into sixteen languages so far. Lisa lives in London with her husband and their two daughters. Connect with her on Twitter @LisaJewellUK and on Facebook @LisaJewellOfficial.
“Lisa Jewell presents us with yet another emotionally intelligent, brilliantly plotted and beautifully written examination of a very modern family that will keep you gripped to the end.... Take this to the beach, or indeed anywhere — I promise you won’t regret it.”
– Daily Mail (London)
“Jewell's last few novels have been a revelation—emotionally sophisticated and complex—and this latest, which gradually rewrites the history of a 'perfect' family, is a fine follow-up.... Taut pacing and complicated characters shape this rich examination of the modern family.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Jewell excels at juggling multiple perspectives to slowly peel back the layers of supposed domestic bliss. Like Liane Moriarty, she manages the perfect blend of women’s fiction and nail-biting suspense, throwing enough red herrings in the reader’s path to keep the pages turning.”
“A great choice for readers seeking a mystery with a blended family twist.”
– Library Journal
“...reminded us of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies.”
– Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
“The Third Wife is a summer gem. The story is complex… the many characters well drawn.... Readers of Donna Tartt and Tana French will recognize Jewell’s pacing for what it is: essential.”
– NY Journal of Books
"The Third Wife explores complicated family dynamics in a genuine way that is witty yet realistically nuanced."
– Shelf Awareness
Praise for The House We Grew Up In
“Clever, intelligent, and believable on a subject few of us really understand. Lorrie is one of the most vivid—and complex—characters I've read in years. Wonderful.”
– Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You
“You'll be desperate to find out what messed this family up so badly.”
– Sophie Kinsella, author of Shopaholic to the Stars
“...prose so beautiful that it glitters on the page. Lisa Jewell lays down piece after piece of mosaic, revealing the heart of the Bird family, filled in equal measure with love and loss. Unforgettable.”
– Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Solomon’s Oak, Finding Casey, and Owen’s Daughter
“A gorgeous, powerful, affecting tale of a family both ordinary and extraordinary. Lisa Jewell is a wonderful storyteller, and The House We Grew Up In grips you from the first page to the last. I'm afraid to say it made me neglect both my children and my husband. The Bird family might be dysfunctional, but I was strangely sorry to leave it.”
– Anna Maxted, author of Getting Over It and Running In Heels
“Jewell cleverly frames the destruction of the Bird family ….an absolute page-turner.”