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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1834

Author: Sandie Jones (b. 1967)

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Publisher: Minotaur Books (New York). 304 pp.

Type of work: Novel

Time: Present day

Locale: London, England

Emily Havistock did not intend to fall in love, but Adam Banks seemed to be the perfect man. Though her relationship with Adam seems ideal, his mother is actively trying to drive Emily away, and she must decide whether Adam is worth the trouble.

Principal characters

Emily Havistock, an independent HR specialist

Adam Banks, her love interest

Seb, her best friend

Pippa, her roommate and close friend

Pamela “Pammie” Banks, Adam’s mother

James Banks, Adam’s brother

Sandie Jones’s debut novel, The Other Woman, is a psychological thriller following a chance romance. Actor Reese Witherspoon chose the novel as her Reese’s Hello Sunshine Book Club November 2018 pick. The novel is also a USA Today best seller.

The novel begins with the chance meeting of Emily Havistock and Adam Banks in a local bar. Emily says, “I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. I hadn’t even known I’d wanted one until Adam showed up.” Adam is everything Emily could want, her only complaint being that “If he was any more laid-back, he’d be horizontal. In his world, everything was calm and under control, like a sea without waves. . . . None of the trivial stuff that had me spitting tacks almost every minute of my day seemed to touch him.” The relationship advances casually, despite this personality difference, until Adam introduces Emily to his mother, Pamela “Pammie” Banks. As Emily gets to know Pammie, she begins to question what she knows about Adam, what Pammie wants from her, and what she herself wants from this relationship.Courtesy of St. Martin's Press

Emily is the main character and first-person narrator of the novel. In the first few pages of the novel, she describes herself as content with simple things: “I was honest, considerate, and blasé about target-chasing. As long as I had enough to pay my rent, eat and heat, I was happy.” To others, however, she is a go-getter in the world of human resources, moving up in her company as she deals with difficult customers. Early in the action, she appears as a quirky and fun woman, confident in herself and in her friendships. As the novel progresses, however, Emily loses sight of herself, becoming less endearing as she falls into depression and doubt, relying too heavily on her relationship with Adam to define her identity.

These disturbing changes begin to show themselves as Emily’s relationship with Adam becomes more serious, and Adam’s relationship with his mother is developed. Emily begins to question her decisions as Adam refuses to listen to her complaints about Pammie. She starts to rely on others’ opinions, even though she does not always follow their advice. This character trait soon causes problems as her relationship with Adam hits a few snags. Another area of insecurity that disrupts her mental health in her relationship with Adam is her body image. Emily establishes her weight before the relationship: “I could no longer fit into the size-twelve jeans I’d worn the year before, but instead of buying myself a size fourteen, I’d scoured the shops to find a more generous size-twelve pair that I could pour myself into.” Shortly into their relationship, Emily becomes pregnant and her weight continues to plague her, especially after Pammie makes snide comments about how she looks. Later, when James, Adam’s brother, becomes involved with a slender woman, Emily struggles with her baby weight and comparisons made by Adam, causes further internal conflicts. © Jeff Oliver

The major conflict in the novel revolves around Pammie and the ways she tries to sabotage Emily and Adam’s relationship. Adam’s relationship with his mother is clearly established early in the novel. When it is revealed that Adam’s father died years earlier, Emily’s best friend, Seb, remarks, “‘It’s difficult when they’re on their own, isn’t it? . . . You feel a lot more responsible for them, even when you’re the child and they’re supposed to be the grown up.’” Soon after, on their way to Emily’s first meeting with Pammie, Adam warns, “‘She’s like any mother, I suppose. A homemaker, peacemaker, fiercely loyal and protective of her children. I hope I offer the same loyalty in return. I won’t hear a bad word said about her. She’s a good woman.’” When Emily tries to tell Adam how Pammie makes her feel, he reacts with exasperation, refusing to hear about his mother in a negative light and saying, “She’s always looked out for you, hasn’t she? Made you feel part of the family?”

Pammie spends most of the novel trying to undermine the relationship between her son and Emily. During their first meeting, Pammie shows Emily a photo album containing pictures of Adam with his previous fiancée, a girl who died tragically. Since Adam had not mentioned this relationship to Emily, she wonders about how it might affect her own romance with him. Later, Pammie publicly leaves Emily out of a family picture even though Adam has just proposed. When subtle jabs do not chase Emily away, Pammie tries more complicated schemes, including claiming that she has cancer even though she does not. Pammie even undermines Emily’s hen party (bachelorette weekend) by inviting the former friend who slept with Emily’s previous boyfriend. The pronouncement that she has cancer the night before Emily and Adam’s wedding, a revelation that puts their ceremony on hold, would seem to be enough to end the relationship. Emily, however, is as determined to hold onto the relationship as Pammie is to end it.

Another conflict in their relationship is a strange attraction that seems to blossom between Emily and James. James flirts with her at her lowest points, offering support and understanding. Pammie interferes with this situation as well, hinting that she sent James to seduce Emily. At several points in the story, Adam withholds sex when he is angry with Emily, usually over situations with his mother. Later, she finds out that Adam has cheated on her, but after a short period of grieving, Emily takes him back. Her forgiveness does not stop him from continuing in his infidelity, and she even catches him in the act during the reception at James’s wedding. Not even threats of physical violence are enough to turn Emily away from her dogged resolution to win Adam.

Emily’s unwavering desire to marry Adam—even after he repeatedly proves that he is not committed to her—does not wane even when Emily begins to fear for her life. The competition for Adam turns sinister when Emily finds evidence that suggests Pammie had something to do with his previous fiancée’s death. The suspense increases after their daughter is born, as Emily is terrified that Pammie will kidnap the baby. It is later revealed that Pammie was abused by her late husband when Adam attempts to excuse his own behavior. The information begins to makes Emily feel a bit differently about Pammie, regardless of the evidence that the older woman is unstable.

While the plot twists keep readers interested in the action of the novel, the characterization also helps develop the story. The supporting characters are mostly one-dimensional. Emily’s friendships are strong, but not surprising, and her two best friends present as somewhat stereotypical. Pippa, her former roommate, stands by Emily’s side, supporting her and believing her stories about Pammie’s torment. Despite Pippa’s consistent presence, Emily claims that her best friend is Seb. “Every woman should have a Seb,” Emily says as she points out his honesty and ability to “evaluate the situation because he was always darn well right.” Unsurprisingly, Adam becomes jealous of Seb, hinting that Emily should cut back on the time spent with him, despite the fact that Seb is gay. Disappointingly, she does begin to exclude Seb from her life because of Adam.

The main characters, however, are complex and emotional. Emily is not a perfect character, but she is relatable. The undermining of Emily’s personality, blamed on Pammie’s taunts, provides an interesting journey. The strong, independent woman from the beginning of the story becomes needy and unsure of herself once she meets Pammie. Adam and his mother are multilayered, keeping readers guessing at their motivations. Adam, who is at first defined by his calm personality and seeming stability, turns aggressive and spiteful when his mother is involved. Pammie, whose mental and emotional games are designed to drive Emily away, has an ulterior motive beyond what Emily can conceive. These relationships deliver a complex and dramatic situation and the character’s flaws contribute to the overall twists Jones brings to the end of the story.

Critical reviews of the novel are varied. Mary Todd Chesnut, in a review of the novel for the Library Journal (1 July 2018), calls the book “addictive” and applauds Jones’ excellent final twist, noting “Readers’ pulses with race . . . and be completely knocked off balance by the shocking ending.” Kirkus Reviews (15 June 2018) agreed, lauding The Other Woman as “Melodramatic yet wildly entertaining, with a smashing twist.” Publishers Weekly (11 June 2018), on the other hand, argued, “The startling if unbelievable 180 at the end of the road will spin readers’ heads, but not enough to compensate for all the contrivance to engineer it.” Despite that negativity, the same review claims that it is worth the read for those who enjoy “plot-driven psychological thrillers.” Tina Jordan for the New York Times (18 July 2018) found the reasons given for Emily to stay in a relationship with Adam unrealistic, stating, “I can’t figure out why she doesn’t just get the hell away from both of them, especially when Adam begins to behave badly . . . and his mother out-and-out kidnaps their child. That Jones fails to make a convincing case for Emily to stay put is a major failing.” Ultimately, critics—including Jordan—almost unanimously agreed that the ending of Jones’ debut novel was well contrived and surprising.

Review Sources

  • Chesnut, Mary Todd. Review of The Other Woman, by Sandie Jones. Library Journal, 1 July 2018, p. 56. Literary Reference Center Plus, Accessed 2 Jan. 2019.
  • Jordan, Tina. “Four Thrillers, United by Male Trouble.” Review of The Other Woman, by Sandie Jones, The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger, Never Alone, by Elizabeth Haynes, and Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh. The New York Times, 18 July 2018, Accessed 24 Jan. 2019.
  • Review of The Other Woman, by Sandie Jones. Kirkus Reviews, 15 June 2018, p. 1. Literary Reference Center Plus, Accessed 2 Jan. 2019.
  • Review of The Other Woman, by Sandie Jones. Publishers Weekly, 11 June 2018, p. 43. Literary Reference Center Plus, Accessed 2 Jan. 2019.

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