Eva Beaver is a 50-year-old woman who has spent her life catering for her ungrateful husband and teenage twins. When the twins leave home to go to university, Eva takes to her bed.
Initially, Eva has the reader's sympathy, especially when she wakes the following day and realises. "She didn't have to get up and make breakfast for anyone, yell at anyone else to get up, empty the dishwasher or fill the washing machine, iron a pile of laundry, drag a vacuum cleaner up the stairs or sort cupboards and drawers, clean the oven or wipe various surfaces ... polish the wooden furniture, clean the windows or mop the floors, straighten rugs and curtains, shove a brush down various shi**y toilets or pick up soiled clothing and place it in a laundry basket, replace light bulbs and toilet rolls, pick up things from downstairs ... fetch dry-cleaning, weed the borders, visit garden centres ... polish shoes ... return library books, sort recycling, pay paper bills, visit one mother and worry about not visiting one mother-in-law, feed the fish ... shave legs or pluck eyebrows ... change the sheets and pillowcases ... pay bills, shop for food ... "
Even reading that long list is exhausting, never mind living it. Soon after, Eva retreats from the world, her life begins to unravel. She is horrified to find that her husband Brian, an astronomer, has been having an affair with a woman called Titania for the previous eight years. Brian is even more horrified to discover that he is now expected to cook, clean and shop for himself.
Unfortunately, despite initially feeling sympathy for the taken-for-granted Eva (and given the drudgery of her life, it would be hard not to) it's not easy to sustain, especially when Eva's primary carers are her mother and mother-in-law, both of whom are pushing 80, who are as taken-for-granted by Eva as she was by her own family.
Soon, people start showing up at Eva's bed seeking advice. A local paper picks up the story of the "Saint in the Suburbs" and thanks to Twitter, Eva goes viral.
As her fame grows, people begin camping outside of her house -- some think she's taken to her bed in a John Lennon/Yoko Ono-style protest about the state of the planet, while others believe she can speak to the dead and foretell the future.
Meanwhile, Eva remains stuck in her bed going nowhere. Is she mentally ill or having a breakdown? Sue Townsend never really addresses this issue, there's a hint of a dark secret, but it's not fully developed within the overall plot. Townsend also never really explains what Eva does while lying in bed -- she doesn't read or watch TV, could anyone just lie there, thinking, without going completely dolally? After entertaining her "fans" for a while, Eva eventually barricades herself into her room.
Unfortunately overall, the novel, like Eva, never really goes anywhere. As with all her other books, Townsend is brilliant at taking the temperature of society in general, and it's all in here -- domestic violence, loneliness, the NHS, mental illness, Viagra, people using text speak in actual speech (Brian's girlfriend feels moved to shout OMG while in bed with him), Alan Titchmarsh, missing children, cyber crime, computer hacking, Alzheimer's and eBay. While the plot might falter, Townsend's trademark humour is as sharp as ever, and no doubt fans will enjoy this book.
Those unfamiliar with Townsend's work might be put off by the unsatisfactory ending (far too many threads left loose) which would be a great shame as the majority of her work is quite brilliant.
Sunday Indo Living