'The Last Mrs. Parrish' Nods to and Subverts the Classics with Aplomb

This debut novel by sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine fits well within the mold of Gone Girl-esque thriller.

It's hard to describe anything about The Last Mrs. Parrish without veering into spoiler territory. If I look for literary and filmic antecedents, I'd have to say that The Last Mrs. Parrish is a wicked combination of All About Eve, Rebecca, and Gone Girl, with a bit of Gaslight thrown in there for good measure. But perhaps that also gives too much away. In any case, The Last Mrs. Parrish fits well within the mold of Gone Girl-esque thrillers: it has the requisite unsympathetic female protagonist, features endless double-crossing and conniving and plotting, and is threaded throughout with cutting commentary on the roles and expectations of marriage.

The Last Mrs. Parrish

Liv Constantine


October 2017

While The Last Mrs. Parrish is not as fresh and daring as Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, which really was utterly shocking, ruthless, and iconic enough to have basically started its own subgenre, it's far better than Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train: author Liv Constantine is much more aware of her novel's precedents and influences, and expects the reader to have enough knowledge of Rebecca and All About Eve, et al, that she can subvert the anticipated tropes and plot threads with ease and aplomb.

A bit of Googling reveals that Liv Constantine is the pseudonym of co-author sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine; in hindsight, knowing that The Last Mrs. Parrish is the work of two voices explains the somewhat disjointed structure of the novel. Divided into thirds, the first section is written in the third person from the point of view of Amber Patterson, a conniving, remorseless young woman who has dedicated all of her efforts into marrying the wealthy businessman Jackson Parrish. Every step of her plan is rather meticulously wrought, from her so-called chance meeting with Jackson's perfect wife Daphne at the gym, where she concocts a story about having a sister with cystic fibrosis to establish a connection with Daphne, who runs a foundation in honor of her sister, who died of CF.

From there, it's a hop, skip, and a jump to ingratiate herself into the Parrish family and become Daphne's best friend and confidante: Amber becoming "Aunt Amber" to Daphne and Jackson's children, accompanying the obscenely wealthy family on vacations and naturally, weaseling herself into a position as Jackson's indispensable office assistant, where she can seduce him that much more easily. Which she does, Jackson's and Daphne's ideal marriage be damned.

The second section of the novel abruptly moves to the first person, where Daphne explains her side of the story (obviously the Parrish marriage is hardly what it seems to be) while the final part returns to the third person to wrap up the narrative. At first blush it might seem self-indulgent to switch narrators in this way in order to elaborate parts of the story that we couldn't get otherwise, but we don't really need a first-person confession from Amber, as her every move reflects her heartless thought process and actively works towards her goal of stealing Jackson from Daphne.

On the other hand, as the genre dictates, Daphne is more complicated than Amber (and initially the reader) would believe, with her motives and desires much more difficult to parse through her actions alone. Even as the story approaches its climax, I found myself wishing that Amber had been as layered and developed as Daphne, because while it's always satisfying to see the Eve Harringtons of the world get some form of comeuppance, Amber is almost cartoonishly evil. A sketchily-traced out backstory explains the bare minimum of why Amber would want to marry into obscene amounts of money, but she's so utterly without conscience or self-criticism that at the end of The Last Mrs. Parrish, she merely becomes a single-minded foil to Daphne rather than an actual person with interiority. Even Jackson, whose innermost workings we are not privy to, comes across as more thoughtfully-conceived than Amber—although that may be because his character type is more recognizable, both in fiction and in the real world, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps between his words and deeds.

The prose is effective and breezy if not stunning or earth-shattering; the story, as the cliché goes, kept me on the edge of my seat, resulting in a long sigh of catharsis as I closed the Kindle app. Ultimately, as a debut, The Last Mrs. Parrish is quite strong and makes a case for itself—the degree to which it flashes its willingness to play with the classics of the genre elevates it beyond the level of a Gone Girl-imitator. I await the inevitable Hollywood adaptation with excitement.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.