Book Review: The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth

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Publish Date: April 23, 2019

“The only thing more intimidating than a huge international film star is your mother-in-law.”Benjamin Walker


From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, Diana, she was kept at arm’s length. Diana was exquisitely polite, and properly friendly, but Lucy knew that she was not what Diana envisioned. But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice who helped female refugees assimilate to their new country. Diana was happily married to Tom, and lived in wedded bliss for decades. Lucy wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was five years ago.

Now, Diana has been found dead, a suicide note near her body. Diana claims that she no longer wanted to live because of a battle with cancer.

But the autopsy finds no cancer.
The autopsy does find traces of poison and suffocation.
Who could possibly want Diana dead?
Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her adult children and their spouses?


Lucy feels that she has never lived up to her mother-in-law Diana’s expectations. Diana has disliked her since their first meeting, and they’ve never had a good connection. Lucy thinks that Diana despises her.

Lucy is not alone in feeling this way. Did you know that more than 60% of married women experience stress because of their in-laws? A study done back in 1954 showed that only 1 in 4 women like their mother-in-law. Hopefully that’s changed; otherwise, that’s a whole lot of hatred out in the world.

The word mother-in-law evokes different feelings in every single person that has one. These feelings can run the spectrum – from love, affection, respect, and reverence to indifference, disdain, dread, dislike, or even hatred. The dynamics of in-laws are fascinating and tricky. They are brought together because of another person that they mutually love, and that might be the only thing that they have in common. For Lucy and Diana, the only commonality is Ollie. And it becomes even more complicated when Diana ends up unexpectedly dead.

This story is told in dual perspectives – Lucy’s and Diana’s – in the present with flashbacks to the past. Diana is many things to many people: wife, mother, friend, philanthropist, daughter, and sister. Lucy is the outsider trying to be accepted into the family, only to fail time and time again. However, Diana is not your typical mother-in-law villain and that’s what makes the story so good. I wanted to dislike her, but she was oddly endearing and I understood her motivations.

The author could have chosen another character for the second perspective, but I think that daughter-in-law Lucy’s perspective gives the story a fresh, new outlook, and it’s brilliant. She is outside of the immediate family, and has a different view on the same events. It makes the plot very unusual.

The book has some great thoughts on in-laws:

“Someone once told me that you have two families in your life – the one you are born into, and the one you choose. But that’s not entirely true, is it? Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don’t, for instance, choose your children. You don’t choose your brothers- or sisters-in-law, you don’t choose your partner’s spinster aunt with the drinking problem…. More importantly, you don’t choose your mother-in-law.”

“I think about all my conversations with Jan and Liz and Kathy about daughters-in-law. We’d always focused on how different they are from us, how their mothering is different, their attitudes are different. We’ve never once focused on similarities. As women. As mothers. And it occurred to me suddenly that there are a lot more of them.”

This book is about love, family, secrets, money, marriage, resentment, and of course, the in-law relationships. It also delves into the dynamics of relationships between husbands & wives, siblings, parents & children, and friends. The situations are very relatable and will make you think of your own relationships.

The Mother-In-Law reminds me of Liane Moriarty’s books. The writing is excellent, the plot is laced with humor and insight, and it’s more of a character study than a whodunnit. I liked Sally Hepworth’s first book, The Family Next Door, but I think that this second book is much, much better. The story had a few surprises too, and the ending wrapped everything up nicely. It’s excellent and it’s a standout book with layered, complex, and engaging characters, and a death surrounded in the mystery of complicated human relationships.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 4 Stars

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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