And so the book club goes on into 2013 and the first book of the year was The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend. Oh and so much to talk about with this book, which I mentioned in my review as I was itching to discuss many things but they would have given the plot away! I refrained from using the smiley face cards that I have used before, however they will be back for future get together’s I am sure. I was armed with some questions relevant to this book and I have highlighted those red if you ever read the book please do refer back here.
Sadly this month we were a couple down due to life and illness, but that still did not stop everyone taking part thanks to the magic of iPad where comments could be sent at the same time as discussion. There was a definite response from L that she would not be able to spend a whole year in bed, a day was bad enough whilst ill. This was probably the consensus of most of us, and we would only stay in bed if really ill and not through some sort of decision made as Eva does in the book. W much prefers the sofa with a blanket if ill.
Did we like Eva? Well I think so. We could understand her reasons for doing what she does; a need for some time for her to think, she has been a wife, mother, daughter and now she wants to be Eva. But the obvious breakdown was rather disturbing to read for me and I felt powerless to be able to help Eva but also that I could not point any of the other characters to the suffering that Eva was in and the help that she needed. What did Eva learn about herself during her hibernation? This question was first discussed by us – why use the word hibernation – was it a hibernation (our group did not think this was case) or something else (our group thought it was about finding yourself and time for yourself and what you wanted). Sometimes the questions need to be discussed before we can even begin to formulate an answer. C could relate to wanting to stay in bed for a while but probably not a year – an extra hour is a luxury. C is a very busy lady who packs a lot into her life. S gave an example of being quite content on her own and how she had learned to love this but a relative could not bear to be alone in the house. Both I and W were content with it. The word guilt was an obvious association with doing something such as ‘nothing’ or doing what you want to do – the guilt being we should always be doing something else and generally for other people too. This book is a reminder in that it is okay to do something for yourself and the last thing you should do is feel guilty about it. Though this book is by no means a self help book and should not be read as such.
We could all understand in some ways getting away from her husband, Brian and her children, twins Brian Junior and Brianne. What did we think of Brian? Did we have any sympathy with him? W was quite vehemently against Brian and wanted him to get his comeuppance. As C commented he thought the whole universe centred round him and that everything else was in his orbit. Appropriate really considering his choice of profession as an astronomer. As S said though, this was changing and he was actually becoming rather backward thinking in his profession and there were people doubting him and his prominence. This was what Eva was doing she was no longer prepared to orbit him. For Brian it was devastating, despite the tangled web of affairs he had got himself into, he returned to Eva because she cooked the dinner, she washed his clothes. Eva balanced everything out. Even the name of their children was centred on Brian.
The issue of Brian’s shed where he went of an evening (before returning for his dinner of course) was where the clandestine meetings with Titania (his lover) happened, and where eventually he resided when Titania whilst Eva remained in the house, in fact remaining in her bed. Conclusion by all that Brian should just remain in his shed. But as with all good books and stories, L wanted to see Brian and Eva reunited. I am not sure it would have worked but that is the beauty of fiction, you can carry on the story ad-infinitum. But why did Eva stay with him was one of the questions put forward. Most thought because of duty and the fear of doing something else and no doubt pressure from outside forces, in the shape of her own mother, Ruby, loved by all of us and mother-in-law, Yvonne who was a particularly nasty piece of work. Eva did everything and the most favourite few passages for all of us were how she recounts Christmas, which was rather apt considering the timing of reading this book. Eva talking to Brian:
“You’ll find the Christmas Card list in the bureau in the sitting room, together with stamps and unused cards. Write them tonight before you go to bed. After work tomorrow, drive around garden centres and garage forecourts look at Christmas trees. In your mind’s eye you are seeing a perfect tree, lushly green and aromatic, rounded at the bottom and rising in ever-decreasing circles until topped with a single branch. However, there are no such trees.
Clear out fridge – use disparate leftovers to make strange little meals, flavours disguised by chilli flakes and garlic. Go to local butcher, order a turkey. Watch him laugh in your face. Go to supermarket, try to order a turkey. Leave to the sound of laughter from the poultry department. Buy ten tins of Quality Street for fifty quid. Queue for an hour and ten minutes to pay for them. Decide how much to spend on distant or near relatives, trawl round shops, ignore present list and make ludicrous impulse buys….Go on-line order latest technical must-have gadget for Brian and twins, find that there are none left in the country……”.
We all found this funny and could relate to it I think, which was why we were certain this book was definitely geared towards women. It was not a book we could see a man reading, but would be interested to hear what he would think.
The twins were a topic for discussion all on their own. Despite Brianne (S – an unfortunate name for a child, poor girl) trying to get to close to her mother in the beginning. However Eva’s relationship with Alexander put pay to all this and Brianne callously sold her mother’s jewellery and there was no going back for any sort of relationship forming between them, which was sad. Is she a good mother? She did try Eva to be a good mother but I feel that for these two children there was no reaching them and that she had no support from Brian in doing so. We thought they were somewhere on the autistic spectrum and that their behaviour became very insular and dangerous towards the end of the book, they only needed each other. We found them fascinating characters but not very nice.
Is the book more than a comedy? What does it say about motherhood and family life? S said it was the ultimate dysfunctional family where components of what are a small part in lots of families are suddenly contained into one place. I am not sure it is a book which says much about motherhood in general as it is really Eva’s story which is the main thread of the book and Eva’s issues with motherhood. As for it being a comedy, I think the jury is still out on that one with us. There were some laugh out loud moments, but that was not really the aim of the book. We did love the author’s use of character names throughout – Titania; the mistress being shortened to Tit made us chuckle especially in the way it was called out as if calling for an animal. Nurse Spears conjured up a nurse with a penchant of stabbing people with needles, and certainly stabbed people with her bedside manner. Ruby the gem in the book as Eva’s mother certainly made us laugh and the way she made the most out of a situation. Making and selling cakes and refreshments when the world descends on Eva’s doorstep made me smile. Her ability to be able to say the wrong thing at the wrong time made her such a fallible human character amongst many that were not. And I have not really touched on Poppy much probably because all of us wanted to strangle her. There was some extreme dysfunctional behaviour there!
S felt that she could not get in to the story, she was not drawn right in and could pick it up and down as and when. There were some parts that were humorous but there were a lot of parts that weren’t and it became a frustrating read for S and C. W had not finished yet. L was disappointed with the ending and I was just glad to finish it. Whether it would work on television as Adrian Mole did was something we were not sure about. S did say that it would make an excellent play. Where the action all takes place in Eva’s bedroom and you can almost see the setting but also the deconstruction and change as the bedroom becomes this complete neutral space.
It was a book I feel in conclusion that we were all a bit ‘blah’ about. We read it and now we move onto the next one, The White Queen by Philippa Gregory.