The Widow’s Tale by Mick Jackson
A recently widowed woman in her early sixties flees her London home and well-meaning but irritating friends. She rents a cottage in a North Norfolk village, telling no-one where she’s gone.
There, she gradually works her grief out – all the classic stages of denial, anger, what ifs, depression and finally acceptance. She makes a classic unreliable narrator at first, but as she begins to explore her surroundings and understand her feelings, we gradually learn that there were cracks in her marriage and what caused them.
The writing was surprisingly funny – she’s quite capable of laughing at herself whilst in the troughs of despond. However her moods can go from witty to maudlin within the space of a paragraph or two, just as in real life.
Losing one’s husband is most definitely a 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. An unfortunately, after a certain age, when you lose a few pounds you don’t look younger. Just pinched and scrawny. And those mad, staring eyes don’t help. …
These days it doesn’t take much to get me going – a lost cat/dog poster, sellotaped to a lamppost – daytime telly – about four bars of Rachmaninov – pretty much anything.
As an exploration of the stages of grief, she goes through it all from the extremes of emotional paralysis to becoming dangerously obsessed by little things. What does become clear though, that despite their relationship being far from perfect i the end, she did love her husband. One day she makes the mistake of glancing at the Lonely Heart ads in the newspaper…
I’ve witnessed Ginny and other single women discussing prospective partners and it’s pretty discouraging. Within seconds the conversation turns into a pretty crude assessment as to what proportion of the man’s hair and teeth remain. The implication being that, unless you make a supreme effort, or Lady Luck happens to be smiling down on you, you’re likely to end up with something resembling a cadaver.
The funny thing is, if it’d been the other way around and I’d gone first I’m sure John would’ve got remarried in a flash. If anyone would have had him. And, strangely I think someone would. John was one of those men who never quite understood women – he just new that he needed one about the place. It wasn’t even that he was incapable of doing the cooking and the cleaning. No doubt in my absence he would’ve had a bit of a shock and probably appreciated me a little more. But within a couple of months he would have got to grips with most things. And the things he couldn’t be bothered doing he would’ve paid someone else to do. Female company for him was simply an anchor. A point to fix his compass by.
The unnamed widow narrates her story through diary entries. She tells us not just what she does each day, but all the memories and thoughts that came to her mind as she tries to get on with life. The tone is conversational throughout as you’ll have spotted from the quotations above. My only niggle is that she is meant to be in her early sixties, and she felt a decade or so younger to me most of the way through – more mid-life crisis territory, and this was not helped by the youthful figure on the book’s cover. This was minor though. The novel is short enough to read in a few hours and I really enjoyed it. (8/10)
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The Widow’s Tale by Mick Jackson, pub 2009, Faber & Faber paperback, 256 pages.