Other Women by Emma Flint
Published by Picador Books on 23 February 2023
Available from West End Lane Books and All Good Bookshops
What They Say
Mesmerising, haunting and utterly remarkable, this is a devastating story of fantasy, obsession inspired by a murder that took place almost a hundred years ago.
In a lonely cottage on a deserted stretch of shore, a moment of tragedy between lovers becomes a horrific murder. And two women who should never have met are connected for ever.
Six years after the end of the Great War, a nation is still in mourning. Thousands of husbands, fathers, sons and sweethearts were lost in Europe; millions more came back wounded and permanently damaged.
Beatrice Cade is an orphan, unmarried and childless – and given the dearth of men, likely to remain that way. London is full of women like her: not wives, not widows, not mothers. There is no name for these invisible women, and no place for their grief.
Determined to carve out a richer and more fulfilling way to live as a single woman, Bea takes a room in a Bloomsbury ladies’ club and a job in the City. Then a fleeting encounter changes everything. Bea’s emerging independence is destroyed when she falls in love for the first time.
Kate Ryan is an ordinary wife and mother who has managed to build an enviable life with her handsome husband and her daughter. To anyone looking in from the outside, they seem like a normal, happy family – until two policemen knock on her door one morning and threaten to destroy the facade Kate has created.
What I Say
A very long time ago, when Years of Reading wasn’t even an idea rattling around my head, I picked up a novel called Little Deaths by Emma Flint. I was completely captivated by this novel of a woman called Ruth Malone, and whether or not she was implicated in the disappearance of her children. You know when you love a novel so much you can’t wait to read what the author writes next? Well, I have been waiting since then to read Emma’s next novel, and let me tell you, I think Other Women is even better.
Using a real life case as its inspiration, Other Women tells the story of Beatrice Cade and Kate Ryan. Beatrice is an older single woman, with no immediate family, living in London, with a room in Bloomsbury, and a job as a book keeper in the City. Existing but not really embracing life, she wants to find love and to have a family, but this is the world after the First World War, still reeling from cataclysmic events and processing the incredible loss so many people have had to endure as a result of so many men losing their lives.
Beatrice feels slightly out of place in her office, with the younger women so much more confident in themselves and what they want, and while she dutifully carries out her job, and tries to engage more with the women she lives with, it all just feels slightly forced, and you feel her discomfort as she tries to fit in.
When Tom Ryan comes to work in her office, she is totally and utterly captivated by him, and dares to think that he might feel the same way soon. Their tentative friendship slowly blooms into a relationship, and for the first time, Beatrice allows herself to believe that she might actually be able to get the domestic dream she has wanted for so long.
Their relationship is conducted privately, away from prying eyes and the possibility of being seen by anyone who shouldn’t see them. While to Beatrice this seems romantic and passionate, slowly it becomes clear that there is a very good reason as to why Tom doesn’t want anyone to know about their relationship.
Kate Ryan has always been the dutiful wife that Tom wants. She has created an idyllic home life for him and their daughter Judith, but Kate is not naive, and knows that Tom has had relationships with other women through their marriage. Kate is also very aware of the implications of not staying married, and that divorce is not an option. Their life may seem perfect from the outside, but only Kate and Tom know exactly what happens when they shut the door at night.
As Tom finds himself further involved with Beatrice, who is utterly besotted with him, and Kate realising that Tom is pulling away from her again, a desperate chain of events unfurl that leaves Kate reeling, as her carefully constructed world starts to implode. Tom has done something that she cannot believe or comprehend, but as the puzzle starts to come together, Kate is faced with a choice that brings her closer to Beatrice than she could ever imagined. After years of having to ignore what Tom has chosen to do to their marriage, she now has the power to change everything – if she is brave enough to do it.
One of the many things I loved about this novel is the way in which you are totally immersed in the women’s lives, and the society they inhabit. Emma’s writing transports you completely to post war London and you feel part of this strange new world where people are trying to get on with their daily routines, adjusting to what has happened to the world. There is always this ominous sense of tension right from the start of the novel, that never feels forced or calculated, but instead slowly seeps through the pages and as a reader you know something awful is going to happen – and when it does, it is all the more devastating because of the unwavering belief Beatrice has that Tom is the man of her dreams.
Undoubtedly, this is a novel about women and how they are treated by a society still reeling from the after effects of a World War. Beatrice never quite fits in – she is unmarried, has no children, and quietly goes about her business, but wants to achieve the domestic dream she believes Kate Ryan has – Beatrice even turns up on her doorstep once, desperate to see Tom. Yet as the novel progresses, we see how Tom also tires of Beatrice when she becomes too demanding of him, and he treats her appallingly, as an annoyance rather than a person. Even in court, she becomes an exhibit to procure evidence from, her life is reduced to a series of statements and reports, and Beatrice will be forgotten when the case concludes.
Kate seemingly has it all – a loving husband, beautiful daughter and a desirable home, but at what cost? The image of the dutiful and benevolent wife hides the fact that Kate is attempting to hold her marriage together by constantly excusing Tom’s behaviour and accepting that this is her life – because that is what good wives do. Emma’s understated and measured characterisation of Kate, and the way in which she perfectly captures Beatrice’s change from unassuming and invisible, to a woman who believes she finally has everything she wants with a man who doesn’t really want her is heartbreaking to witness, and testament to Emma’s absolute understanding of the women she is depicting.
Other Women is a truly unforgettable novel, that gets completely under your skin as soon as you meet Beatrice and Kate. As a reader you realise that in this world where a man’s word is deemed to carry more power than a woman’s, lives could be changed forever in a simple sentence. Kate and Beatrice may be poles apart in terms of the trajectories of their lives, but they both simply wanted the same thing. To love and be loved, and to live their lives believing that the man they had chosen to share it with loved them back too.
I absolutely loved it.
Thank you so much to Picador Books for my proof copy.