Muriel Gray, chair of the 2007 prize, when announcing this year’s longlist, said: “There were lots of books we rejected – about personal female issues, the loss of a child, the break-up of a marriage, thinly veiled autobiographical things of no consequence – because they weren’t expansive enough”. So, what on earth, is this novel by Margaret Forster, doing on the longlist?
For if ever a novel existed to record the minutiae of personal existence, this is the one. Recorded by the mother, it charts the voyage one family travels after a daughter dies in a freak accident. Wife, husband, adolescent son and the surviving twin sister all cope in different ways and, inevitably , pull in different directions.
Thankfully it is only 200 pages long. Thankfully , because it is a bleak book and it is an uncomfortable read. How can a book examining the nature of grief be otherwise? Grief seeps into every nook and cranny and distorts absolutely every aspect of human existence. Is it unseemly to carry on living?
I can’t see this novel being universally adored. Some may find it maudling. (And, indeed, there’s a very cynical synopsis of the book here.
Yet, for me, it was a very powerful read and one which transcends Forster’s scenario. For death is not the only trigger which suspends normality. Having come through a few years of hell on earth, I recognise many of the situations Forster describes. During that time friends would urge me to write it all down for posterity. I couldn’t – living through it once was bad enough. Rehashing it in a journal wasn’t an option. I also thought no-one would be interested. Well, I was wrong on the last point. I was very interested in Forster’s novel. And I am grateful. She’s saved me a job. I shall be sending copies to a number of close friends in the coming month.