The Widow’s Tale by Mick Jackson:Book Review

 The Widow’s Tale by Mick Jackson is his third novel, published this month.  I didn’t know of him and hadn’t read anything by him before, but when I saw this book on offer through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers’ Programme I thought it looked interesting.  His earlier novels are The Underground Man, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997 and Five Boys, published in 2001.

The Widow’s Tale is a sad tale – she is certainly not a Merry Widow, but then again she is not the Widow of Windsor (Queen Victoria) even though she does leave her house in London and live in seclusion in Norfolk.

Like Rebecca she doesn’t have a name and written in the first person singular the narrative is all from her perspective and rather rambling as befits a woman in her sixties on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was a bit put off at the beginning when she comes out with the phrase, so often used by my mother-in-law: “By the time you get to my age …”. But there the similarity ended.

Her husband has died, she’s taken it badly, and goes to live in a rented cottage on the bleak Norfolk coast, shunning other people. She drinks to forget herself, sits in pubs alone, doing the crossword and reading a book to pass the time. She drives out to places she once knew, goes for solitary walks,  gets stuck in the saltmarshes, and is definitely quirky and obsessional.

But there is something in her past life that is haunting her, an episode that John, her husband didn’t know anything about and that has coloured her life ever since. I think it it was this rather than losing  John that caused her such distress. I was wondering how this book would end and in a way it is inevitable and I thought it rather disappointing.

I don’t often think this about a book – it was OK. The writing is fluent and it’s a quick read. It’s episodic rather than linear as she recollects events and thoughts from the past and I would have said it’s really good but for the fact that I couldn’t really believe the narrator is a woman. But it has made me want to read more by Mick Jackson and I see from his website that as well as his three novels he’s also written two book of short stories, Ten Sorry Tales and Bears of England, both of which look interesting.

Sunday Salon – Today’s Reading

Today I’ve been reading Semi-Detached by Griff Rhys Jones (a book I borrowed from the library). This is his memoir of his childhood and adolescence and I’m enjoying reading it. I had a look at what people have written about it on Amazon and found it has some very disparaging comments. I completely disagree – this is not boring or dull, and not at all a ‘celebrity’ memoir. I’ll leave writing about it until I’ve finished it, apart from this little bit about swimming and diving in his local swimming pool. I can identify so much with his account of the diving boards. The diving boards were made up of a lower board and a high dive. And it was scary on the high board. It was best to jump off it first before attempting a dive. Griff describes the experience of his first jump, that ‘sinking, sick-making descent’:

I must have stood there taking counsel and advice for ten minutes before I finally went off for the first time, in a sudden fit of bravado: still talking, without anybody having the chance to advise me, I stepped straight off the edge and fell … arrgh: my internal organs apparently losing their adhesion to my lower abdomen.

I bobbed up quickly and swam frantically, over-energised, to the side and went straight back up. (page 80)

That was me too! I loved it, but how times have changed. My last experience in a swimming pool last year at Center Parcs in Nottingham was terrifying when I went down the flume. It was a rapid descent and I was pushed along by people behind me, ending up underwater, certain that I was going to be drowned and hating the whole thing.

My other reading this morning was The Widow’s Tale by Mick Jackson, a book I received from the publishers via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers’ Program. This a gentle account of a newly-widowed woman who is coming to terms with her husband’s death after 40 years of marriage. It’s about her thoughts and feelings as she flees  from her London home to rent a cottage in a small Norfolk village.  I have my doubts about the narrator’s voice – at times it comes across as male rather than female, but I’m waiting until I’ve finished it to pass judgement.

Friday Finds

This week I received a copy of The Widow’s Tale by Mick Jackson, via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers’ Programme.

I’ve never read anything by Mick Jackson before, but I’m hoping this will be good. It’s described on the back cover as

The long awaited third novel from the Booker Prize shortlisted author of Five Boys and The Underground Man.

A newly-widowed woman has done a runner. She just jumped in her car, abandoned her (very nice) house in north London and kept on driving until she reached the Norfolk coast. Now she’s rented a tiny cottage and holed herself away there, if only to escape the ceaseless sympathy and insincere concern.She’s not quite sure, but thinks she may be having a bit of a breakdown. Or perhaps this sense of dislocation is perfectly normal in the circumstances. All she knows is that she can’t sleep and may be drinking a little more than she ought to.

But as her story unfolds we discover that her marriage was far from perfect. That it was, in fact, full of frustration and disappointment, as well as one or two significant secrets, and that by running away to this particular village she might actually be making her own personal pilgrimage.
By turns elegiac and highly comical, The Widow’s Tale conjures up this most defiantly unapologetic of narrators as she begins to pick over the wreckage of her life and decide what has real value and what she should leave behind.

This meme is hosted by MizB at Should be reading.