I seldom write negative reviews as I’m a firm believer that almost all professional works possess a degree of merit.
Even if one isn’t drawn in by a theme, one can admire the structure, formulaic or otherwise, that is evident in most professional works of fiction.
If the structure is shaky, often the quality of the prose or dialogue will redeem the work.
Failing that, the premise itself might be the single redeeming aspect.
The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year started off with an interesting premise.
Eva Beaver, an unappreciated wife and mother, retreats to her bed after her twins leave for university. While other exhausted mothers would lie down for a few hours or even a few restful days, Eva sinks into an exquisite languor and discovers that she has no desire to leave her bed or interact further with the world.
While this sounds less than plausible, it does open a world of possibilities in terms of social commentary and explorations of gender roles.
What a pity that the book fails to deliver any of this.
A fan of Sue Townsend, I grew up with her Adrian Mole series. While younger than Adrian Mole was in the last book, I nevertheless came of age alongside the character.
The humor in the Adrian Mole books is sharp, sometime unpleasant but ultimately redeemed by the humanity evident in most of the characters.
However, The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year possesses little in the way of humor or humanity.
When the book was recommended to me, I felt a twinge of discomfit. The entire premise seemed a throwback to the wave of revenge-themed novels (such as The First Wives Club, The Dieter and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil) from the 80’s and 90’s. Books in which hard done by, middle-aged women struck back at their oppressors in a collection of unbelievable ways.
At best, these were statements about the gender inequality of the times and the role of women in society. At worst, they could be seen as the middle-aged female equivalent of male power fantasies. In these types of books, the women do not get super-powers but they do get even.
But at least the heroines of such books do something. The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year is an ode to the passive-aggressive.
The protagonist simply retreats into her bed and her memories. The supporting cast is quickly divided into two camps – those who assist her strange behavior and those who selfishly pursue their own hollow desires. There is little in the way of social commentary in the book. It may be classified as a satire but I’m unsure what it attempts to satirize.
I understand that this book purports to be black comedy. But comedy still requires timing, engaging characters and relevant themes.
So if the themes are lacking, what of the writing style?
Most of the Adrian Mole offerings were written in diary form. This meant that the author could avoid having to tackle descriptive passages. The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year is written in third person and told from the perspective of multiple characters.
Sue Townsend tackles this in a business-like way that fails to engage the reader. Her writing style wouldn’t be a problem if any of the characters were remotely relatable.
But they remain paper-flat throughout, less archetypes than stereotypes. Comedy cliches that the author moves from one point in the story to another.
Their actions and choices are baffling. None of them undergo any character development – some do change in the course of the story but their changes don’t seem relevant to the plot. Their changes don’t impact on it nor are they a believable result of the events in the book.
There is no denouncement or satisfying conclusion to this novel. The consequences for each character are either contrived or carry no weight. The book simply ends.
Having spent my teenage years caring for a depressive parent, I found it hard to scrape up much sympathy for an adult protagonist who expects others to act as caretakers. So perhaps I’m not the intended audience for this sort of book.
But who is?
Mental illness and agoraphobia do not make light reading. I know that discomfit is at the heart of good satire and black comedy. But much like Eva, this book lacks the energy to deliver on its premise and like the main character, prefers to remain prone.
Fans of light humor probably won’t find it appealing and lovers of black comedy may just find it dull. I am honestly unsure which demograph the author had in mind when she started writing.
I would sleep on it but in light of reading this book, I think that I’ll make myself a pot of black coffee and spend the next two days awake and on my feet instead.