| 9.6°C Dublin

Review: Fiction: The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first Adrian Mole book, the pimply, adolescent creation of Britain's queen of comic fiction, Sue Townsend. But while males of a certain age can revel in a little literary nostalgia with the publication of a special anniversary edition of the books, Townsend has been busy making sure her crown doesn't slip with a darkly hilarious new novel.

The Mole diary books focused on the trials and tribulations of the endearingly nerdy Mole, but in The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year Townsend examines the silent agony of fifty-something housewife Eva Beaver.

The day her twins, Brian Jnr and Brianne, leave home for university, Eva throws a cup of tomato soup over her favourite armchair before going upstairs and, fully clothed and wearing a pair of high heels, crawls under her duvet.

Over the course of the novel, Eva watches the household fall to pieces around her but remains resolute in her devotion to her duvet existence.

She refuses to fulfil the roles of mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law and general dogsbody for her demanding family.

From beneath her crisp, white sheets, Eva starts to peel back the layers of five decades spent trying to live up to the expectations of those around her.

This emotional decluttering is mirrored by a physical one, which sees Eva gradually empty her bedroom of all its contents -- starting with husband Brian.

After she's kicked the astronomer out of the marital bed, she starts to get rid of all the furniture, clothing and any other possessions.

Dread-locked handyman Alexander, one of many characters drawn into her life since she's decided to check out of it, helps her turn her bedroom into a white cube stripped of all remnants of her life.

Throughout the novel, the multi-tasking librarian remains the calm centre around which the many other characters revolve as their lives start to fall apart in Eva's absence.

It transpires her husband Brian has been having an affair with his colleague Titania for the past eight years, and, with Eva's blessing, the pair end up moving into Brian's 'pimped' shed complex in the backyard.

Meanwhile, the twins struggle to settle in to college life, something the socially awkward maths prodigies seem frighteningly ill prepared for. The siblings bring yet another new character to the household when they return home for Christmas -- the destructive fantasist Poppy, a lost young women who has latched on to the oddball twins.

Ironically, as the deeply unhappy Eva does her best to withdraw from modern life, cocooned in her white cube bedroom, this serene centre draws more and more of the world to her.

After Eva's 'protest' is covered by a local paper, a host of followers who believe Eva is some sort of bed-bound angel begin a vigil outside her suburban semi.

The Woman Who went to be Bed for a Year proves that Townsend's acerbic wit has lost none of its potency and there is so much to admire about this perfectly pitched comic novel.

The author has injected enough darkness into the narrative to balance out the humour and the result is wonderfully thoughtful, provoking and laugh-out-loud funny.

However, at times we are forced to wonder if Eva is slowly losing her mind and the realisation that we could be chuckling along to the mental disintegration of this deeply sad housewife is unnerving.

But Townsend handles the topic deftly, and it's difficult not to conclude that Eva is just doing what so many of us have wanted to at times -- climb under the duvet and press the pause button on our lives.

Like the followers camped outside, as you read you probably will want to crawl into bed with Townsend's troubled heroine and find some peace from your own hectic existence. This novel affords us all a chance for a little timeout between the sheets.

Indo Review