Is it over? for Louise. Married life. Twenty years or so married to Don, twin girls, and then a son, Finn. All the usual family business. Kids in their teens, house in the suburbs. Quiet in the back bedroom. You can hear the cars change gear going up the hill.
And then, one of the twins, Miranda, is killed. She’s doing her A levels, besotted with an older boy, goes on a sailing week-end – there may have been a quarrel – but Miranda took the boat out by herself, inexperienced, perhaps the weather was bad, but Miranda was lost, drowned.
Something happens when a child dies. Don became obsessive. He had to know what happened, had to understand, had to find someone responsible, had to have done something. Distancing it by his reason, making a man’s thing of it, an investigation.
But Lou, how did she recover her life? Her husband’s obsession, constantly visiting, revisiting, physically and emotionally, the scene of the tragedy, may have been his solution. It wasn’t hers.
They separated, left the family home. Lou took a flat, started teaching in an infants school, resumed a life of sorts. Don pursued his obsession, forced his obsession on all three of them, wanted her to go to Holland, to look on as his rational irrationality drove him on to question and argue, to stop being the man she had known.
She no longer loved him, felt anything for him. The school, the bright children, their concerns, their parents took over. They became a sort of life that she kept at arm’s length. She was living in this limbo and then she was forced by events, by Don, by her children to face her life, to decide who she was, who she was going to be.
This very compact story is told with the utmost economy and elegance.
Lou tells her own story. Her voice is spare, apparently open, the voice of someone slowly, thoughtfully revealing her life. “I have to start somewhere, trying to understand”. She is writing, hoping that words put down on paper will bring shape to her life. But it is the very shapelessness, the inability to tell the story openly, in an orderly way instead of just letting the thoughts surface as they will, that reveals the tension and grief she is barely aware she has. Her supposed understanding of her husband reveals her false assurance.
“The thought of actually recovering is something I think he cannot bear. To recover would be for him the greatest betrayal of all.”
It is only gradually as we enter Lou’s new life that the events of the past begin to emerge, that we begin to appreciate the coldness that has entered her life, and as we do so, we begin to appreciate the firm, forensic, moral touch with which Margaret Forster understands the complexity of a woman’s feelings.
I think this is one of Margaret Forster’s best novels of recent years. It is tightly focussed on one woman, and one central event, her recovery from her daughter’s death as her husband and other children respond in their own ways.
The voice with which this woman reveals herself is the perfect vehicle for telling the story and displaying the woman’s psychology.
We are presented with a tragedy that many may face. The story has no melodrama, no sentimentally, just a painstaking step-by-step honesty with which we are made to confront the inner feelings of one woman.
The language may be simple, just the thoughts and feeling of a suburban woman writing for herself, but the expression, and through that the revealed character and feeling, are profound.
It is a novel that needs to be read several times to sense its truth and drama.
“Over” is available from Bookends, 56 Castle Street, Carlisle, amd 66 Main Street, Keswick, and from www.bookscumbria.com.