Simon's Bookcase

Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe

The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year

The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year: Sue Townsend, September 15—October 8, 2012

Rating: ♦♦◊◊◊◊

Sue Townsend tries to be clever with The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year and is making an obvious effort to straddle comedy, drama, tragedy and social commentary. Unfortunately, the effort is more obvious than the result and the tone is uncomfortable throughout.

The plot is simple, and potentially interesting. A middle-aged woman effectively has a breakdown, decides to go to bed and stay there for a year. Her family and an expanding cast of bizarre eccentrics become entirely responsible for her care.

The initial progression is relatively intriguing, particularly in seeing the reactions of her husband, mother and mother-in-law. The Woman is at its best when it focuses on the family drama, the complexity of the relationships and the human drama that comes from the situation. In many ways, the book is strongest when the ensemble cast come together, rather than in small groups, largely because none of the sub-plots are interesting enough in isolation.

Townsend gets carried away and the plot descends into a sheer farce around midway, with the arrival of TV crews and desperate fans clamouring for a glance of Eva. While the whole novel is far-fetched, this element asks the reader to suspend more disbelief than is reasonable and is just a bit of nonsense too far. Strangely, the phenomenon dissipates and plays no part in the conclusion, which also renders it a pointless tangent that would have been better omitted.

The main issue with the book, to my mind, is the how unlikable all of any of the key cast are. It is impossible to sympathise with Eva Beaver when she is portrayed as selfish, self-centred and petulant. The character could have been shown in a completely different light that would have provoked a more positive response to the reader and, in turn, the book.

The supporting cast are just as dreadful. Nobody could ever tire of happily battering Poppy to death. The twins, Brian Junior and Brianne, are fleetingly funny in their deadpan hedonism but quickly grate. The only vaguely likeable character in the whole jamboree of nutjobs is Alexander, who is in fact awarded a degree of empathetic treatment. The key scene, towards the end, where the development could have been perfected is rushed and unexpected. It feels like Townsend’s editor tapped her on the shoulder and told her she had 20 pages left and could she hurry it up a bit.

The book’s conclusion fails on all levels. It simply stops. The impact of the last few pages on the characters is far more significant than the event itself, but no attention is paid to them in the slightest. There’s also no explanation as to why these same events hadn’t happened a year ago or what in particular triggered their occurrence now. None of the sub plots are resolved in any satisfying way, with threads just left dangling all over the place.

Where Adrian Mole excels in social commentary, The Woman cannot replicate it. A slapdash assortment of caricatures and weirdoes does not a social commentary make. The stupidity of Brian and Titania’s relationship mars any reflection on society; the unpleasantness and extremity of Poppy makes light of mental health issues and the mothers, Yvonne and Ruby, shift personalities so often it’s clear they are underdeveloped.

Despite an impressive back catalogue of classics, with regret, Townsend should have stayed in bed herself instead of writing this book.

  • Thanks to Arlene Bovill for the recommendation.

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This entry was posted on October 8, 2012 by in 2 star and tagged .

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@Queen_UK Adolf Hitler agatha christie Alan Clements Alastair Campbell Aldous Huxley Aleksandr Orlov Alex Shaffer Andrew Neiderman Anthony Burgess Arthur Miller Bateman Ben Brooks Ben Elton Bram Stoker Bret Easton Ellis C.J. Cherryh Carolyn Jess-Cooke Charles Dickens Chuck Palahniuk Dan Brown Dante Alighieri dashiell hammett david baldacci David Brin David Glattauer David Kirkpatrick David Line David Tennant David Wolstencroft Dylan Jones E.L. James Edgar Allen Poe Emilia Fox Eoin Colfer Erica Spindler Frank Peretti Gabrielle Lord Gareth Roberts Geoff Ryman George Orwell George R. R. Martin George W. Bush Gillian Flynn Gillian Slovo Graham Greene Guy Piran Harper Lee Harriet Lane Herman Koch Ian Rankin J.K. Rowling Jack Thorne Jacqueline Rayner James Herbert James Patterson Jasper Fforde Jeff Green Jeff Kinney Jeffrey Archer Jem Lester Jenny Robson Jeremy Clarkson Jerry B. Jenkins Jim Thompson John Crowther John Green John Grisham John Tiffany John Verdon Jonas Jonasson Judith Kerr Juliana Foster Justin Richards Kaci Hill Karen Levine Keeley Bolger Louis Walsh malorie blackman Marissa Meyer Mark Haddon Mark Z. Danielewski Martin Sixsmith Mary Higgins Clark Mary McNamara Matt Haig Matthew Ravden Michael Berry Michael Connelly Michael Morpurgo Michael Quirke Miguel de Cervantes Mike Lancaster Morris Gleitzman Morton Rhue Neil Sinclair Nick Hornby Nick Page Patricia Cornwell Patricia Stotley Patrick Ness Paula Hawkins Paul Johnston Peter James Phil Allcock R.J. Palacio Rachelle Dekker Raymond Chandler Richard Bachman Robert Louis Stevenson Robert Ludlum Robin Cook Robin Kirkpatrick sandra brown Sebastian Beaumont Sharon Osbourne Stella Rimmington Stephen Cole Stephen King Steve Lookner Steve Lyons Stuart MacBride Sue Townsend Suzanne Collins ted dekker Terry Pratchett Tim LaHaye Tim Randall Todd Strasser Tom Avery Tom Bower Tom Cain Tom Hoyle tony blair William Golding William P. Young William Shakespeare