Tuesday 30 March 2021

Mrs Death


'Mrs Death Misses Death' by Selena Godden is another book that is hard to pin down, but then Death is quite hard to pin down. Wolf meets Mrs Death in the traumatic moment when his mother is killed in a fire, and then again years later he buys an old desk, that turns out to be a link to her. Through their connection Mrs Death shares her life and her experiences. So the book is a hotchpotch of narratives, conversations, poems and dreams. It is quite emotionally intense at times, the whole style reminded me very much of her performance we went to at the literature festival some years ago. 

"Last breaths and last moments smash into my brain, death traffic colliding second by second. Death comes, she is seeping through into my mind. Random deaths and sudden deaths, deliberate deaths and violent deaths, images of the end of life and life endings. These dreadful scenes and horrific feeling crawl like ivy through The Desk and through my fingertips, into my veins, my emotions and into my thoughts. Cannot breathe. I cannot breathe. My father is walking into the sea. He cannot breathe. My mother is trapped in a burning building. She cannot breathe. Oh no. I cannot breathe. I have stopped breathing. Breathe, breathe, damn it, breathe. I jolt and I am back in the room. A million coloured spots before my eyes. I'm exhausted. I am weeping. I am gasping for air. Breathe slowly, slower, slow down. I hold myself steady and place my face flat against the cool wood. I slow down my breathing and stroke the desk top. My heart is slowing down again. Breathe. Just breathe. I have been somewhere else, everywhere else, but I am here again. Oh, I have been travelling. I time travel. I am a death tourist. I am witness. I am permitted. I can see every end. I go everywhere that Mrs Death goes and the places only Mrs Death can go when I am here and when I listen to The Desk." (p.73)

It is however just as much a book about the human condition, about life. It's not a story, but it is many stories. It is the story of Wolf, but only partly. His history keeps recurring, and there is a link through history between the stories that Mrs Death tells him. 

"Her grandchild Wolf grows impatient and yanks on Rose's apron and Wolf asks again: What are the three most important things in life? Grandmother Rose shakes her head slowly, noticing her hands are cold and numb in the dirty potato water. One raindrop spits onto the kitchen window, followed by five more, spit spit spit says the old rain, spit spit. The washing will get wet unless Rose is quick, the sky is a dark violet colour. 

Hey, Wolf tries, one more time, what are the three most important things in life? The potatoes are peeled and bald in a bowl of salt water. Rose wipes her hands and darts out of the kitchen door to gather the washing from the line. The rain falls sudden, in sloops, rainwater runs and slurps from the gutter; the clean sheets are soaked through.

Wolf stands by the door for a time, watching the rain batter the laundry, old Rose standing in the old roses growing in the garden. Wolf takes it all in: the apple tree, the long green grass, the purplish sky. Mrs Rose Willeford all white-haired. The white bedsheets, her mouth full of clothes pegs, her apron pocket bulging with more wooden clothes pegs. Wet apples, wet grass and the wet old lady. Wolf leaves the empty jam jar on the step to fill with raindrops." (p,195-6)

In the last part of the book Wolf goes to Ireland to a remote tower to write and a series of poems completes the book, I particularly liked this one:

The weather
is mad 
blue sky rain
grey sky sunshine
the sea is
razors and

Stay safe. Be kind. Stay human. Enjoy the sunshine.

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