Aussie Book Review: Wife on the Run by Fiona Higgins
“When social media and a mobile phone expose a high school scandal and a husband's shameful secrets the only thing left to do is ... run. In the remarkable new novel from the bestselling author of The Mothers' Group a beleaguered wife and mother escapes it all on a family road trip - without technology - to reclaim her life and rebuild her family.
A mother's greatest fear... A wife's worst nightmare... What would you do?
When two technology-related disasters hit within days of each other, Paula knows her comfortable suburban life has been irrevocably blown apart. One involves the public shaming of her teenage daughter, the other is a discovery about her husband that shocks her to her core. With her world unravelling around her, Paula does the only thing that makes any sense to her: she runs away from it all.
She pulls her children out of school and takes off on a trip across Australia with her elderly father and his caravan. The only rule is No Technology - no phones, no Facebook, no Instagram, no tablets, games or computers. It's time to get back to basics and learn how to be a family again.
It all sounds so simple - and for a while, it is. But along the way Paula will meet new, exciting complications, and realise that running away is only a temporary solution. The past has to be faced before the future can begin.
A thrilling, tender and hugely entertaining story of loss, love and discovery from the bestselling author of The Mothers' Group.”
Do you know what your children get up to on social media? Do you ever wonder what your husband is doing late into the night on the computer or even his mobile phone for that matter? In this latest novel by best-selling author of The Mother’s Group, Fiona Higgins, brings the grim reality of technology’s drawbacks to the fore.
When Paula finds out that her daughter, Caitlin, has been caught in the midst of a Facebook cyber-sex scandal, she doesn’t think things can get any worse. Unfortunately, life has a few more lessons that it would like to mete out to her, so she is further shocked when she discovers that her husband, Hamish, has been keeping his own shameful secrets. Suddenly, the cracks in their marriage become painfully clear and Paula realises that it’s decision-making time. The first, however, may just prove to be one of the easier ones she’ll ever make!
With her son Lachlan somewhat embarrassed by the scandal surrounding his sister, she decides to pull them both out of school for the remainder of the year as she makes plans to take a trip around Australia (something her and Hamish had always planned to do), with her aging father, Sid, accompanying them.
She sees this as an opportunity to escape the rat-race, her mundane existence and daily drudgery of a part-time job, housework and looking after her family that has morphed into what she now calls life. Of course, the children have a choice to go along or stay with their father, but if they decide to go, there’s one condition that they’ll need to consider - the use of modern technology will be prohibited unless an emergency presents itself. At first, the children aren’t happy about this, but soon realise that Paula is serious, while Paula discovers that some of the rules she's put in place are perhaps working to her detriment.
Life on the road, however, allows her time to re-connect with her children and her aging father and the trip becomes a great chance at reflecting on her life and making changes she thought she'd never be able to make, promising to change her life completely.
When they meet an intriguing and handsome Brazilian stranger along the way Sid, wanting to teach his grandchildren real life lessons, welcomes him in to the circle of their family while Paula finds herself hopelessly attracted to this younger man. Nobody realises this will be a life-lesson in itself, even to the adults, and by the end of their journey, all truths will present themselves with some agonising decisions to be made.
A marriage in crisis, a family in the midst of upheaval, Paula’s story could belong to any one of us with a couple of kids and a house in the ‘burbs trying to fit too much into her everyday life instead of taking some time out for herself just to re-group and re-evaluate the things that are important. Fiona makes it all the more frighteningly real by giving us the story from the first-person perspectives of two flawed and deeply human characters, with chapters alternating between the voices of Paula and Hamish, and the way each of them view their relationship with one another.
As I read Paula’s story, I couldn’t help but feel empathy towards her and we began to develop quite an emotional bond as I saw her constantly struggling with self-doubt, disappointment, and body image issues. Not so with Hamish who I found to be rather shallow and egotistical, constantly thinking about his own needs and always putting those first before anyone else. Of course, when he got his just desserts, I had to contain myself from pumping my fists in the air as I was sitting under the trees at work during one of my breaks - could you imagine the looks I would have got!
While the focus of the story is on Paula and her dilemmas relating to her marriage and journey of re-discovery of self, there are plenty of other topics within the storyline that will keep you engaged from the descriptions of the scenery on their journey across Australia, the mystery man “Farken Frank” who Hamish meets on his travels as he tries to trace his family’s whereabouts and continues to pop up unexpectedly, to the warm relationship Paula shares with her father Sid.
The way Fiona recounts the lives of her characters is delightfully humorous yet achingly honest with some strong language in parts, particularly in Hamish’s narrative, but it is not at all gratuitous, instead giving the scenes the reality and frankness they deserve as she explores the gritty reality of modern day life touching on issues from the ever-increasing draw-backs of social media and cyber-bullying, family relationships, infidelity, aging and other issues that long-term marriages in today’s society face. Life lessons prevail on this journey, not only for the children but for the adults as well. You can run, but you can’t hide, and the time will come when you need to face your demons!
With modern-day problems and family drama at its core, Wife on the Run is a story that will have you laughing more than crying and will appeal to a broad range of readers and book clubs alike.
I wish to thank Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room for providing me with an ARC of this novel.
A Little About the Author
Born in Melbourne and educated in Sydney, Fiona Higgins has worked in the philanthropic sector over the past 15 years. Her previous roles include Executive Director for The Caledonia Foundation, Philanthropy Services Manager for Cambooya Services, Programme Manager for The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and Communications Officer at Australian Red Cross (NSW). Currently she is Director of Grantmaking and Evaluation at Australian Philanthropic Services, and sits on the board of The Caledonia Foundation and The Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Foundation.
Fiona's memoir, Love in the Age of Drought, was published in 2009 by Macmillan and her first novel, The Mothers' Group, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2012, with foreign rights sold in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.