Did you ever wonder what really goes on during your husband’s business trips? Jo Furniss’s The Trailing Spouse takes that question to the extreme
Mamas, have you ever felt that your existence in sunny Singapore revolved around the parameters of marriage, visa dependency, betrayal and perhaps something… a bit more sinister? According to author Jo Furniss, being called a “trailing spouse” conjures up negative connotations, and in this case there perhaps couldn’t have been a more apt title for her new book of the same name.
After spending a decade as a broadcast journalist for the BBC, Jo gave up the glamour of night shifts to become a freelance writer and serial expatriate. Originally from the United Kingdom, Jo spent seven years in Singapore, among other countries, experiencing the trials and tribulations of being an expat spouse for herself. Jo’s debut novel, All the Little Children, was an Amazon Charts bestseller and one of the Top 50 Kindle titles of 2017. The Trailing Spouse is Jo’s second novel, published this past August.
I recently caught up with Jo on what led her to penning this gorgeous little read:
What was your inspiration behind this book? Was the theme something that you experienced (directly or indirectly) during your time in Singapore?
A random thought dropped into my mind one day and I knew it would be a good set-up for a thriller: a business traveller visiting many different destinations could quite easily get away with murder. It was always a joke between my friends that our partners might have a whole second family somewhere overseas, so the idea was probably an extrapolation of our gallows humour. I’ve been an expat for 16 years and I think most of us understand that there is a level of trust required between partners who travel.
Sometimes, there’s also a power imbalance in a marriage — I’m thinking of the infamous ‘Dependant Pass’ — that adds to the vulnerability. So my novel The Trailing Spouse is a thought-experiment about someone who cracks under that kind of pressure. There are other themes in the novel that also came from my time in Singapore: the treatment of FDWs (helpers); the experience of an expat child returning to a place they grew up; and the insecurity of living in a country that is not our own.
Were you a trailing spouse too in Singapore despite your professional life?
I’m a journalist so I’ve been able to work in every country we’ve lived in (Cameroon, Switzerland and Singapore), but I’ve never held the lead job so I suppose I’m a ’trailing spouse’. But like most people, I wince at the term because it sounds so passive and derogatory.
What’s your usual writing style / genre?
My first novel – All the Little Children – was also a thriller, although rather different as it told the survival story of a mother and her family who get caught up in the aftermath of a disaster. The mood of that novel is very raw and visceral, while The Trailing Spouse is more urbane and sophisticated — rather like its setting.
Need we say more? Singapore is certainly urbane and sophisticated if nothing else. Without giving away too much of the plot, I think the book is a must-read for any expat spouse who has called Singapore home at some point in their lives. Having called Singapore home for the past 15 years and as a trailing spouse myself, certain aspects really resonated with me – yes, Singapore is an absolute haven, but there is also a dark side to expat living that conveniently gets shoved under rug more often than not. For instance, how well do you really know your helper, and what might she be going through in her personal life while making your family’s life easier?
Read more: 13 Great Novels by Singapore Authors
There’s the constant threat of affairs; the ease of travelling in and out of Singapore for quick getaways; expat kitty party groups; gossip; circles of expat friends… and big brother always watching. As a mother and a dependant spouse, Jo really hits the nail on the head for me when she talks about the real threat of perhaps having to leave Singapore almost instantly if the ‘lead spouse’ no longer has a visa and how quickly your perfect life can unravel.
I recommend giving the book a go just to put your mind at ease that perhaps you aren’t the only one going through common expatriate lifestyle issues. After all, this is what the expat life in Singapore is all about.