10 min read ⌚
Sometimes secrets have the power to ruin lives.
Regardless of whether someone discloses them or not.
In the case of this novel, the well-being of three women rests on one secret.
Who Should Read “The Husband’s Secret”? And Why?
Did you watch the first season of Big Little Lies and – just like about everyone (it holds 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes) – liked it so much that you can’t wait for the second season?
Well, Liane Moriarty wrote the novel upon which the TV show was based. (At least so far: we have no idea what will happen in the second season, but it’s definitely going to be something which is not in the book).
One year before authoring Big Little Lies, Moriarty published The Husband’s Secret. Unsurprisingly, the two books share many of the same topics: the interconnected lives of three women, familial problems, interspousal betrayals, murder…
You know all the things you liked about Big Little Lies.
If so, trust us, you’re going to like The Husband’s Secret as well.
And maybe, just maybe, even more.
Liane Moriarty Biography
Liane Moriarty is a bestselling Australian author.
She embarked on a career as a writer, after working for some time as a copywriter at an advertising company.
In 2004, she published her debut novel, Three Wishes, after which The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist’s Love Story followed.
It was, however, Moriarty’s fifth novel, The Husband’s Secret – published in 2013 – that brought her international acclaim.
Unsurprisingly, her next novel, Big Little Lies, debuted at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list the next year; HBO adapted it into an award-winning miniseries in 2017 (starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley).
Since 2014, Moriarty has written two more novels: Truly Madly Guilty and Nine Perfect Strangers.
Find out more at http://lianemoriarty.com.au/
The Husband’s Secret is a story about a prematurely read letter; and the three women whose lives interlink once the secret specified in that letter is suddenly discovered:
None of us ever know all the possible courses our lives could have and maybe should have taken. It’s probably just as well. Some secrets are meant to stay secret forever. Just ask Pandora.
Cecilia Fitzpatrick is a happily married mother of three who, by the looks of it, has it all figured out. However, at the beginning of the novel, she is distraught and anxious about something.
Namely, sitting at the kitchen table, Cecilia wonders if she should read the unopened letter in front of her. It’s from her husband John-Paul, and it explicitly states that it mustn’t be opened before his death:
My darling Cecilia,
If you’re reading this, then I’ve died…
So, it’s that serious!
One thing, though, thinks Cecilia: “How exactly was she meant to have found this letter if he had died? She might never have found it!”
In fact, even now she managed to find it merely by accident. It was her daughter Esther’s remark about the Berlin Wall at breakfast that inspired her to rummage through the attic to find the piece of the Wall she had kept there ever since her travels as a young girl.
But, now the Berlin Wall seems like something utterly unimportant.
What is she supposed to do with this letter?
Tess O’Leary has a severe husband-problem of her own.
She has just discovered that her partner, Will, has feelings for her cousin, Felicity. And that the two plan to move in together – into their very home.
Supposedly, this should be good for Tess and Will’s young son, Liam; in fact, Will believes that such a move should help Liam deal with the change in a much more relaxed manner.
Tess, understandably, doesn’t share his feelings. In her mind, she and Liam must get away from the chaos as soon as possible.
And they do: they go to Sydney, to stay with Tess’s mother.
It’s a nice arrangement since Tess’s mother has recently broken her ankle, and she could use the help around.
And Tess – well, she could use the break.
Rachel Crowley is the least happy of the three women: almost all of the people she loved in her life are dead.
That’s not only true for her parents and her husband but, also, unfortunately, for her daughter, Janie as well, murdered brutally back in 1984.
Ever since then, Rachel has been living a half-life, finding some happiness only in caring for her grandson, Jacob.
However, at the beginning of the novel, her son Rob informs her that he and his family are planning to move to New York.
It seems like excellent news at first glance, but it is not for Rachel; she is visibly upset because she feels as if the last piece of cheerfulness is being taken away from her life.
Cecilia and John-Paul
Cecilia decides not to open the letter before calling her husband and telling him about it.
John-Paul asks from her not to read it. Even though he is a bit unclear as to why, Cecilia tells him that he will respect his wishes. They will talk things out when he gets home.
However – being merely a human being – deep down inside her she desperately wants to; because – once again, being a human – she is afraid that the secret the letter is hiding includes another woman.
When you take into consideration the fact that Cecilia and John-Paul haven’t had sex in a while now, her fears seem even more justified.
Tess is about to enroll her son Liam into school when she bumps into Cecilia.
We find out that the two women know each other: they are old school acquaintances. And their children will probably be able to say the same in many years’ time, since Tess is enrolling Liam at the very same school where Polly, Cecilia’s daughter, currently goes.
And Rachel is the secretary at the school.
Things are starting to connect.
As Rachel is meeting Tess and Liam for the first time, Connor Whitby enters the office.
Connor is the Physical Education teacher at the school and is obviously not Rachel’s favorite person. And their animosity dates back to 1984 when the sergeant working on the case of Rachel’s murdered daughter maintained that Connor was lying about something.
In Rachel’s mind, that can only mean one thing: he has something to do with her daughter’s murder.
Rachel was supposed to take her chronically exhausted daughter Janie to a doctor the night she disappeared.
However, she instead went to Connor’s house after which she headed straight to the railway station.
And that’s the last place anyone ever saw her.
Back in the present, Rachel uncovers an old recording. It is of a video discussion between Janie and Connor which ends with a bit of an argument.
Rachel believes that this is not only new but decisive evidence in the case.
The Secret of the Letter
John-Paul returns home, and he and Cecilia passionately make love.
And all’s well until Cecilia wakes up in the middle of the night to hear footsteps in the attic. She realizes that whatever’s in the letter is so incriminating that John-Paul wants to do away with it immediately.
So, she heads to her office where she had put the letter after finding it.
And decides to read it.
It’s a confession: John-Paul admits in it that he was the man who killed Janie Crowley back in 1984.
Cecilia immediately confronts John-Paul; and John-Paul hides nothing.
He was deeply in love with Janie, and when she asked him to meet her the night of the murder, he excepted to be told that she is ready to take their relationship to the next level.
Instead, she told him that she was in love with someone else and that she wants to end it.
John-Paul couldn’t bear the pain and choked Janie to death, placing his mother’s rosary beads in her hands and immediately fleeing the scene.
He wasn’t found, and he wants some help from Cecilia not to be found in the future as well.
“Can you stay with me now, after finding out my darkest secret?” – John-Paul asks Cecilia.
At that moment, Polly comes in and “Yes” is the only thing Cecilia is able to utter.
However, all hell is happening inside her head.
And when she happens upon Tess and Rachel at the school, she is so deeply affected that she faints. Tess takes her home, and she returns later to the school to fetch Polly’s shoes as well. There she meets Connor and flirts with him. He invites her on a date. And she agrees.
Meanwhile, John-Paul’s mother arrives for a visit to Cecilia’s house, and Cecilia brings up the topic of Janie’s murder.
To her amazement, John-Paul’s mother already knows her son’s secret. However, she advises Cecilia to act like her and keep it a secret still because its disclosure would help nobody. It won’t bring back Janie, but it will destroy John-Paul’s, hers and their children’s lives entirely.
Tess and Connor
Tess and Connor have an exceptional date which ends with an intimate rendezvous: both in physical and in a spiritual sense.
In other words: after they have sex, they tell each other their deepest secrets. Tess that she has marriage problems and that her husband wants to live with her cousin; and Connor that he was a suspect in the case of Janie Crowley’s murder.
Even though Connor fears that this is one secret he could have kept to himself, Tess stands by him, telling him that she believes that he is innocent.
Of course she does: she knows him for exactly one day!
Cecilia and Rachel
Rachel, however, knows Connor for a lot longer and she has a very different idea.
And when Cecilia comes over to her house to deliver her some Tupperware (there’s Tupperware everywhere in the novel!), she tells her that she’s very close to catching Janie’s killer, having uncovered some new evidence.
Cecilia, however, couldn’t possibly know that Rachel is referring to Connor and the videotape, and when she comes home, she tells John-Paul about this.
He convinces her that if such a thing ever happens (i.e., if there’s new evidence that involves him), he would turn himself in immediately.
Tess and Felicity
In the meantime, Tess is doing her best to forget about Will, a. k. a. she spends a lot of her time with Connor. At one point, Connor even invites her and Liam to fly a kite together; and, in spite of the fact that her mother objects, Tess accepts the invitation.
However, just before the kite-flying, the doorbell rings and Tess is shocked to find Felicity on the other side of the door.
Felicity tells her that Will is sad and that the moment she and Liam left Melbourne, his feelings toward her suddenly cooled off.
Who cares about that? – basically replies Tess; how will I ever be able to forgive either one of you too?
At that moment Tess realizes that because of her conversation with Felicity, she completely forgot about the kite-flying arrangement with Connor!
The Husband’s Secret Epilogue
There are John-Paul, Cecilia, and their daughters, riding bikes. Polly notices her teacher Connor in the distance, and she starts biking faster to reach him.
At the very same moment, Rachel is driving home from the police station, angered by the fact that the video conversation between Janie and Connor is not accepted as evidence. She notices Connor holding a kite; infuriated by the sight, she accelerates her car in his direction.
However, instead of hitting him – she hits Polly!
Polly survives the accident, but is badly hurt; so much, in fact, that she needs to have her arm amputated!
Distraught at what she had done, Rachel confesses that her plan was to kill Connor in retaliation for Janie. Cecilia can’t bear the burden of her secret anymore and tells Rachel that John-Paul is the real murderer.
John-Paul comes clean before Rachel as well; however, Rachel is incapable of doing nothing other than promising not to press charges – especially now when Polly needs her father more than ever.
In the meantime, Will and Tess decide to give their marriage one more chance – for the sake of Liam who adores his father.
The real secret of the book is revealed in the epilogue and is one – we are told – none of the characters will ever learn.
Namely, Janie wasn’t killed by anyone.
She didn’t die from asphyxiation but from an aortic aneurysm.
Her serious medical condition was the cause for her tiredness, which was the reason why she was supposed to go to the doctor the night she disappeared.
As we already know, she never made it to the doctor.
Like this summary? We’d like to invite you to download our free 12 min app for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.
“The Husband’s Secret Summary Quotes”Falling in love was easy: anyone could fall. It was holding on that was tricky. Click To Tweet You’ve been here before. It won’t kill you. It feels like you can’t breathe, but you actually are breathing. It feels like you’ll never stop crying, but you actually will. Click To Tweet Marriage was a form of insanity; love hovering permanently on the edge of aggravation. Click To Tweet You could try as hard as you could to imagine someone else’s tragedy – drowning in icy waters, living in a city split by a wall – but nothing truly hurts until it happens to you. Most of all, to your child. Click To Tweet She longed to feel something momentous. Sometimes her life seemed so little. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Both Entertainment Weekly and People chose The Husband’s Secret as one of the ten best books of 2013. And if you ask us – it’s even better than Big Little Lies.
Honestly, we planned to reserve this section for a plea toward some Hollywood executive to buy the rights for this novel.
Fortunately, it turned out that CBS Films have been a few steps ahead of us. Even more fortunately, they chose Blake Lively to star in the movie adaptation.
That’s excellent casting: she should be a great Cecilia!
Learn more and more, in the speed that the world demands.