Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Widow's Tale (Author: Mick Jackson)

Published by Faber and Faber

The Blurb on the Cover:

A woman runs out of her house, gets in her car and starts driving. And carries on driving until she reaches the Norfolk coast … where she rents a cottage, to hide away and contemplate her new, husbandless life.

She’s not sure, but thinks she may be having a bit of a breakdown. She’s certainly drinking a little more than she ought. But as her story slowly unfolds we discover that her marriage was not exactly perfect. And that by running away to this particular village she may very well be carrying out her own small pilgrimage.

By turns elegiac and highly comical, The Widow’s Tale conjures up the most defiantly unapologetic of narrators as she picks over the wreckage of her life and tries to establish what she should carry with her and what she should leave behind.”

My Thoughts on The Widow’s Tale:

Now, I have first to tell you that I have a little problem with this book, and that problem is that we are to believe that it was written by a member of the male species. You see, the author is given as one Mick Jackson. Now, is that a bloke’s name or what? Absolutely it is. You can almost imagine good old Mick in a navy singlet, well-worn jeans, perhaps a bit of plumber’s action happening at the back, a growing bald spot on top, goodness there may even be a tattoo of a stripper called Rosie on his upper left arm. This man isn’t even called Michael, or Mike, but Mick. Mick is the guy you have a pint with at the pub while the wife cooks the Sunday roast. How is it, then, that this same person can write a book which so beautifully, lucidly and intimately conveys the emotions of a woman? I am in awe. No, seriously, I am in awe. I read this book, and I took the book into my head and I took its widow into my heart.

You know I said that I was going to post my thoughts on two books today. Well, it’s pretty obvious now, isn’t it, which is getting passed on to somebody else and which will become one of my treasured Keepers. My mate Mick has given me a friend for life. I feel that I know this woman. I can relate to her on so many levels. I know exactly what she was feeling at certain times, such as wanting to yell at inappropriate moments, to sway between the hypers and hypos without any necessity for that boring old diagnosis of bi-polarism. I want to sit down and get drunk with her. But there I have a problem also. I actually don’t know what to call her. You see, for the life of me I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced, or even informally, and the sad thing is I don’t even know her name. Who is she, this new friend of mine? 

I have to tell you, some of her thoughts are just wonderful, as deep as if she had spent six months in a cave with a long-haired unwashed monk and found enlightenment, while at other times she is just hilarious. I like her both ways. I just want to share a few little examples with you here. 

Now, as is obvious from the title, and from the blurb from Faber and Faber, the book is about a woman who is recently widowed. Here she is contemplating death: 

“It’s death’s intransigence that’s so hard to swallow. That’s the brick wall you keep coming up against. The death arrives, all done and dusted. And, frankly, how you deal with it is neither here nor there. There’s no negotiation. No higher court to whom you can appeal.” 

You read a passage like that and you go: Wow, she is so right there; it’s a done deal, and your reaction is irrelevant to the fact of it. 

Or this: 

“Losing one’s husband really is a complete bummer. But let’s look on the bright side. I’ve actually lost a little weight. Oh, there’s loss of all sorts going on around here. Mind you, I wasn’t particularly chunky to begin with. And unfortunately, after a certain age, when you lose a few pounds you don’t look any younger. Just pinched and scrawny. And those mad, staring eyes don’t help.” 

These passages should certainly not suggest that the book is in any way morbid. Consider the following, which comes when she is checking out – for the first time in her life – the Lonely Hearts column in the newspaper: 

“Euphemisms abound. ‘Petite lady’ is, I imagine, meant to imply ‘on the short side’, but hints at being a little bit French. ‘Rubenesque’ presumably means curvaceous, and possible even ‘the larger lady’, but suggests that given the right circumstances she might be talked into lying naked on your settee. Sadly, in such exotic company, the few women who try to maintain a little dignity come across as simply frumpy. What, I wonder, is the shorthand for ‘I have a PhD’? Possibly plain ‘PhD”. But I doubt that’s going to fill your mailbag. Not when you’re competing with women of the foxy and Rubenesque variety.” 

The circumstances are not funny, but the writing is wryly so: 

“I’m slowly pickling myself. I’m going to be a biological phenomenon. Perfectly preserved, in all my widow’s glory. They’re going to put me in a big glass jar in some dusty museum. The accompanying notice will say, ‘Due to all the booze sloshing around in her system this woman managed to live to be 250 years old. Unfortunately, the last couple of hundred were a complete and utter blur’.” 

I want to quote half the book, but I would much rather you read it for yourself. It really is a superb book and one that deserves to be on everyone’s top shelf. 

Despite the fact that I have since purchased Mr Jackson’s Booker Prize short-listed novel The Underground Man, I still have my doubts about him. Are you sure it’s Mick and not Michelle?  

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