Book Review

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

A dark and suspenseful novel of lies, betrayal, and identity – perfect for fans of Big Little Lies and Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

It was meant to be an evening to honour and celebrate Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning, career-making scientific research – but Evelyn has things on her mind.

Things like Nathan, her husband, who has left her for a younger, better, newer woman. A woman who is now pregnant – but shouldn’t be – and is strikingly familiar. Too familiar to be a coincidence.

A woman who shouldn’t exist.

The Echo Wife is a propulsive new novel from an international rising star about identity, murder, and the choices society forces women to make.

The Echo Wife is set in a near future world where the possibility of creating human clones has been realised, the science developed by brilliant research biologist, Dr Evelyn Caldwell.  The novel opens with a prestigious award ceremony celebrating her achievements which serves to highlight her exceptional talent and pioneering breakthrough.  She’s a fascinating character – not always likeable, but at least honest in her forthrightness.  Her time is mostly taken up with her research, leaving her with little time for anything or anyone else.  She comes across as being a little cold in this respect, having deliberately locked away her emotions to give her (predominantly) male counterparts one less opportunity to judge her, and there’s a clear frustration at the necessity of this that is felt by both Evelyn and the reader.  She comes across as being unwavering – she is set in her ways and comfortable in her assumptions when we first meet her, and it’s pleasing to see her reassessing her own behaviour as the novel progresses, taking into consideration perspectives other than her own. 

As the novel opens, we learn that Evelyn’s husband, Nathan, has left her for another woman – Martine – to whom he is now engaged.  Understandably disappointed and angry at the situation, Evelyn is surprised to receive a message from the “other woman”, asking to meet.  It kicks off what proves to be a tense and exciting plot as these two women’s lives becomes increasingly entwined.  I won’t say too much on the plot for fear of spoilers, but what starts with an awkward but largely harmless meeting proves to have unpredictable consequences. 

While Nathan appears in very little of the novel, he is a character that I hate unreservedly.  He admires Evelyn’s brilliance – a brilliance that he can’t hope to match – and yet it’s clear that he resents her for it.  He seems to want the best of both worlds – a brilliant and intelligent wife, but one who will put his needs before her own.  In Martine, he has someone who admires him and who doesn’t put herself first in the way that Evelyn does.  It’s a particularly outdated scenario, and I got strong Stepford Wife vibes from Martine when she was first introduced.  That she learns, grows, and develops from this inauspicious start through the events of the novel and her interactions with Evelyn is wonderful to see.  

The Echo Wife is an excellent sci-fi thriller, but it’s also a novel that examines the role of women today, the choices that are often pressed upon us, and the sacrifices what we’re still expected to make without complaint.  The beginning of the end for Evelyn and Nathan – even if she didn’t realise it at the time – was when Evelyn became pregnant and chose to continue her research and career over having a family.  It highlights the way in which women are often expected to put their own lives on hold and to sacrifice or at least delay their future in order to have a family, and while there are beginnings of a shift in this respect, it’s still very much the norm that women put their careers on hold rather than their male counterpart and I think that this is brilliantly illustrated throughout the novel. 

The Echo Wife is an excellent novel that successfully blends a thriller with a sci fi edge as well as just the right amount of feminist angst to highlight inequality without letting it overpower the narrative.  It’s a thought provoking read, and one that I highly recommend. 

The Echo Wife is published today – 18 February – by Hodder & Stoughton. Many thanks to Callie Robertson for the opportunity to read and review ahead of publication.

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