My rating: 10/10 for the writing, and 5/10 for the grim plot. Averaging out to 7/10.
Will I ever read this one again? No time soon – too dark and icky, fabulous writing aside. Though I’m tempted to seek out the sequel, Vacant Possession, to see what Muriel gets up to once freed of her mother’s smothering influence.
So here I am this week concurrently struggling with a stupidly busy schedule and battling a vicious virus, and I’m looking for a really good read to escape into in the few bits of down time I’m able to snatch to escape from the chaos of a week-long, much-too-far-from-home dance festival, and I page through the few library books I impulsively grabbed on my last quick visit a few weeks ago, and I tuck this one into my attaché case, because right there on the cover it tempts me with this:
Evelyn Axon is a medium by trade; her daughter, Muriel, is a half-wit by nature. Barricaded in their crumbling house, surrounded by the festering rubbish of years, they defy the curiosity of their neighbors and their social worker, Isabel Field. Isabel is young and inexperienced and has troubles of her own: an elderly father who wanders the streets, and a lover, Colin, who wants her to run away with him. But Colin has three horrible children and a shrill wife who is pregnant again–how is he going to run anywhere? As Isabel wrestles with her own problems, a horrible secret grows in the darkness of the Axon household. When at last it comes to light, the result is by turns hilarious and terrifying.
And I power through this book compulsively, because though the subject matter is grossly unpalatable – unhappy people doing unspeakable things to themselves and to each other, things intimately detailed by the unflinching author – because dark as it is, and much as I want to just put it down and look away, I can’t.
This was Mantel’s first novel, and she must have torn up a lot of first drafts, because it is absolutely excellent; beautifully crafted.
But bleak – oh, so terribly, bitterly bleak! In retrospect, probably not the best choice for cheer-myself-up, forget-that-I’m-ill reading, especially after a course of engagingly inane D.E. Stevensons with their neat and tidy happy endings. Hide the kitchen knives and the sleeping pills, because I’m just now looking at life through grimy, smoke-coloured glasses, and finding it unutterably futile.
This isn’t really a review, is it? I’m sitting here pecking away at the keyboard and sniffling, much too sick and tired to form a series of cohesive thoughts, so I’m cheating big time now and referring you over to Dove Grey Reader – Every Day is Mother’s Day for a really interesting review with lots of personal connections.
And this one, too, which gives more details on the plot: Being Obscure Clearly – Every Day is Mother’s Day.
Also on the library stack is Mantel’s novel Fludd, which my husband just finished and plunked down with a quizzical eyebrow twitch. “Interesting” is all he’ll say when questioned, which could mean almost anything. He did read it all in one sitting, which argues in its favour; this is not a man who hesitates to put a book aside partway through when it ceases to enthrall.
The numerous comparisons between Hilary Mantel and Muriel Spark are apt. And here I must confess that I’ve a rather low tolerance to Spark. Good to read occasionally, for the bitterness of the humour and the deliciously jaded worldview, but I never go on a binge of book after book by her. Mantel joins Spark on this section of my bookshelf, right there beside Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Taylor, Rosamund Lehmann and others of that sisterhood. “To be taken in small doses.”