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.  

SPOILER ALERT – don’t click the link if you’re intending to read the novel:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/digestedread/story/0,,2032507,00.html

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. 

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