The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year
When I heard of the sad passing of Sue Townsend I found myself wanting to dig out and reread all the Adrian Mole novels I own. I had Adrian Mole: From Major to Minor which was an omnibus edition which contained the first three novels if I remember correctly. I must have read it 10+ times in my teens. It was brilliant. It is brilliant.
Rather than going back on what I’d already read however, I decided to try something new and opted for The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year. This may have been a mistake. This is far from my favourite Townsend novel and it kind of makes me feel bad to be reviewing something in not entirely favourable terms in tribute to a novelist who I really did appreciate and enjoyed many of the works of.
Anyway, before I explain my feelings towards the novel here’s it in summary from its publisher:
The day her gifted twins leave home for university, Eva climbs into bed and stays there. For seventeen years she’s wanted to yell at the world, ‘Stop! I want to get off’. Finally, this is her chance. Perhaps she will be able to think.
Her husband Dr Brian Beaver, an astronomer who divides his time between gazing at the expanding universe, an unsatisfactory eight-year-old affair with his colleague Titania and mooching in his shed, is not happy. Who will cook dinner? Eva, he complains, is either having a breakdown or taking attention-seeking to new heights.
But word of Eva’s refusal to get out of bed quickly spreads.
Alexander the dreadlocked white-van man arrives to help Eva dispose of all her clothes and possessions and bring her tea and toast. Legions of fans are writing to her or gathering in the street to catch a glimpse of this ‘angel’. Her mother Ruby is unsympathetic: ‘She’d soon get out of bed if her arse was on fire.’
And, though the world keeps intruding, it is from the confines of her bed that Eva at last begins to understand freedom.
I don’t know what I expected to happen in this novel but what I expected to happen didn’t! It reminded me a lot of Dawn French’s Oh Dear Silvia and in many ways the comedy and tone of the novels do fit closely together.
As with a lot of Townsend’s novels there are all kinds of crazy things happening that just don’t quite ring true but are similar enough to reality that they simply add more humour than seriously affecting the narrative. There are only a few moments where the humour reaches into the absurd but they’re funny enough points that it didn’t make me put it down!
As Eva spends more and more time in her bed she becomes something of a local celebrity and Townsend gives us lots more characters who we catch glimpses of, smile at and then they move on. The novel feels in part a bit like an opportunity to exorcise a load of characters from Townsend’s brain.
When you take away the humour there’s a really sad story, Eva isn’t well, she can’t leave her bed through some form of growing mental illness which remains unspoken. Throughout the novel I found myself questioning if Eva was actually ill but concluded she must be and this did make the novel more uncomfortable as it went on.
Her twins are another thing altogether. They seem to descend into their own form of internet-fuelled madness too and the ending they get is absolutely perfectly fitting. I’m still wondering whether Eva is mad and wondering whether all the humour and character introductions mean we miss something about the real crux of the story.
I would recommend this novel but it isn’t quite what I’d expected.