Missy opens her morning paper and immediately flips to the obituaries. David Bowie has died.
“At my age, reading obituaries is a generational hazard, contemporaries dropping off, one by one; each announcement an empty chamber in my own little revolver. For a while I tried to turn a blind eye, as if ignoring death could somehow fob it off. But people kept dying and other people kept writing about it, and some perverse imp obliged me to keep up to date.”
Missy had finally made her mind up to go to the park and watch them electrocute the fish, so that she will have something to talk about with Arthur, her beloved grandson. More and more these days she finds that she is doing things just to provide a story to share with her family.
As she watches the fish being stunned and captured, she feels herself falling, vision fading away to blackness.
Missy is awoken by a dog nuzzling her face and she finds that she has slipped from sitting on the bench to laying on the bench. A concerned group of people has gathered around her, one woman holds a wet napkin to her forehead. Missy’s embarrassment far outweighs any injury.
The lady introduces herself as Sylvie, inviting her to coffee. Sylvie is the first stranger that Missy has spoken to in weeks. A serendipitous moment? No, she declines.
She returns to an empty house. She laments that her darling grandson now lives in Australia and it is easy for the reader to see that Missy is very lonely and teetering on the edge of depression. We also learn that some incident with her daughter, Melanie, never leaves her mind for long and that it leaves her with a terrible feeling of guilt. Melanie has not been to visit since this incident occurred, adding to Missy’s loneliness. Sylvie returns to the narrative, bumping into Missy at the chemist the next day. Again, she offers an invitation to a cup of coffee, again Missy declines. Sylvie tells Missy that no matter, they are bound to bump into each other again.
While trying to avoid one character, Missy is almost forced into friendship with another. At the coffee shop Missy witnesses a fight between two women. One of them is Angela who was invited to coffee with her by Sylvie back at the park a couple of days ago. Angela attaches herself to Missy like a limpet mine and follows her home asking questions, barging into the house, almost uninvited. She is such a wonderful character, an example of how Angela talks,
“Plus she thinks I should have married Otis’s father, Sean, even though he’s a useless twat. But he’s a useless twat from our village, so ideal marriage material. And now she’s come for a visit, so I’m sleeping on the sofa and she’s asking why I haven’t bought a house yet, “Is it because of all the immigrants?” “Jesus Christ, I AM an immigrant,” I said. And she said, “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
Angela asks Missy to the park with her son, Otis. At the park they run into Sylvie who invites them back to her home. The feeling of serendipity is strong again and it feels as if these women were meant to become friends and just what Milly needs.
The narrative will go back in time to various points in Missy’s life. Important parts that shaped who she is today. We slowly get the complete painting of Missy, with chapters of her past like wide brushstrokes filling the canvas.
Later in the novel these jumps back in time will take place mid chapter, an object, such as a blow-up swimming pool, will trigger a memory and we will be whisked back in time, usually to an important anecdote. Dreams are also used to impart vital information from Missy’s past.
In a nutshell this is a story about a year in Missy’s life, and her change in attitude and confidence in her twilight years. This passage sums her changing feelings nicely as well as giving us an example of Morrey’s lovely writing style,
“Sylvie had a wonderful capacity for “philautia”, that boldest of Greek loves, the love of the self – a much finer quality than narcissism, which it’s often mistaken for. The way I saw it, with narcissism, you were just gazing at your reflection in a lake, with philautia, you were frolicking in the lake and inviting people to join you. People who truly liked themselves seemed to have a greater capacity for friendship, for letting people in. Perhaps that’s why I, in the past, was always rather solitary. But I liked to think I was starting to dip a toe in the waters.”
There is more to the narrative and a few surprises, however these should be left for the reader to discover as they are an integral part of the story and convey a powerful message. One message, without spoiling anything, is the incredible power of friendship, and the mountains it can move.
Sadly this beautiful tale must cut to the bone, be close to heart for many elderly people who have lost partners and family, and this story shows to never give up on life. Never let your age define you, after all it’s just a number. Don’t give in, you never know what, or more importantly who, is just around the corner.
4.5 Stars. (Have your tissues ready)
Beth Morrey has been currently the Creative Director at RDF Television where she has been involved in numberous productions - she helped create "The Secret Life of Four Year Olds" series on Channel 4 and devised "100 Year Old Drivers" for ITV.
She was shortlisted for the Grazia-Orange First Chapter competition back in 2011, had her work published in the Cambridge and Oxford May Anthologies, and was Vice-president of the Cambridge Footlights.
Beth lives in London with her husband, two sons and dog.