Nancy, Eleanor and Mary met at college and have been friends ever since, through marriages, children and love affairs.
Eleanor is calm and driven, with a deep sense of responsibility, a brilliant career and a love of being single and free – despite her soft spot for her best friend’s husband.
Mary is deeply intelligent with a love of learning, derailed by three children and a mean, demanding husband – she is now unrecognisable to herself and her friends.
Nancy is seemingly perfect: bright, beautiful and rich with an adoring husband and daughter – but beneath the surface her discontent is going to affect them all in terrible ways.
When Nancy is murdered, Eleanor and Mary must align themselves to uncover her killer. And as each of their stories unfold, they realise that there are many different truths to find, and many different ways to bring justice for those we love…
Everyone wants a perfect life. But there is no such thing…
What a brilliant novel this is! Imperfect Women is a brilliant psychological thriller as well as an exploration of female friendships. It looks at the inevitable ups and downs of life, and the way in which a life that may seem perfect from an outsider’s perspective very rarely is.
Imperfect Women is split into three sections, each told from a different point of view. It begins with Eleanor who is woken early one morning by Nancy’s husband, Robert. Nancy didn’t make it home the night before, and Eleanor rushes over, arriving shortly ahead of the police who bring news of Nancy’s murder. Distraught by her friend’s death, Eleanor feels guilty, aware that she and Nancy were at odds when they last spoke and wishing that she’d at least given her a smile or a kind word before parting. I really liked Eleanor. I think that it’s unusual to have a female protagonist who has made the choice to live alone and not have children – I feel that these choices are underrepresented in fiction (maybe it’s just the books I read?), despite more women making that decision for themselves. Through Eleanor, we learn more about the immediate aftermath of Nancy’s death and the police investigation, as well as a little more about the women themselves.
The view then shifts to Nancy (before her death – it’s not that kind of novel) and we learn more about her, her marriage, and the affair she was having (not a spoiler – it’s revealed in the first few pages!) and what drove her to it. Nancy’s life is one that many would see as enviable – well off, she doesn’t need to work, she has a beautiful house and everything she could ever need. But as we read on, we begin to understand her dissatisfaction with her life and how things have turned out for her. I can’t say I really sympathised with her, but I definitely softened towards her as I came to understand her more.
The third point of view is that of Mary, and it’s only in this final section that we really get to know her properly. Eleanor and Nancy mention her, but I think that it’s only when we get her view of events that the reader can fully understand her. An intelligent woman with a PhD, she fell into a relationship with Howard, whom she married but who has abused her psychologically, belittling her and essentially forcing her into a life of drudgery, caring for their children and expected to manage the house without complaint – there not being enough room for two academics in their household, apparently. Hers is a narrative of a woman coming to terms with the truth of their situation, having accepted it for so long and building up the courage to do something about it. I loved seeing her come to the realisation of her own worth and beginning to put her own needs ahead of those of her husband.
Imperfect Women is a novel about exactly that – women who aren’t perfect and who don’t pretend be. It emphasises the way in which women are still often forced to sacrifice something (children vs. career) in favour of something else, the idea of a woman who has it all not inconceivable, but also not that common or realistic for some. It’s also an excellent psychological thriller – I loved the slow reveal of information as we learn more about Nancy’s final moments, and highly recommend it.
Imperfect Women is published by Orion and is available now in all the usual formats. You can read the first ten pages or so in this excerpt that I shared as part of the blog tour to whet your appetite. Huge thanks to Francesca Pearce for my copy of the book.