Book review: The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year

Last updated 09:05 06/12/2012

On some mornings, when rain is coming down like hard pellets on the roof and beating against the windows, grey clouds circle the sky and I know that wearing a dress outside will bring about a Marilyn Monroe moment of embarassing proportions - I've thought about rolling over and staying in bed for the day. Or you know, a few days. A week. Maybe a month.

But in Sue Townsend's latest book - the protagonist (hilariously named Eva Beaver) goes one better than this. The book is titled The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, which is pretty much, yep, what she does.

Eva is a regular, mousy, middle-aged woman with two kids who have jusfairytale bedt come of university age when she arrives home one day and decides she Has Had Enough. Her version of having enough is to take to bed, ostensibly for a long nap, which stretches out into a year-long sojourn between the sheets.

It's while she spends time lollygagging in bed - I'll leave how she disposes of body waste to your imagination - that we begin to see just how terrible things had really got for Eva. Her husband, possibly a contender for world's worst partner, turns out to have been having an affair with a younger colleague for the past several years.

From her bed, a sort of loose cult starts to form around the figure of Eva, and people begin to seek her counsel on various life issues.

I won't give too much away, but I have heard from readers of Adrian Mole that fans of the Mole diaries won't be disappointed with The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year. It carries Townsend's trademark sense of humour, laced with that uniquely British sense of self-deprecation.

What I think is so interesting about this story is its message about the culturally scripted female need to please, and what happens when a woman decides to break that unspoken rule. A recent Sydney Morning Herald story based on a magazine survey (not the most scientific of research methods, but good enough) says that women still feel guilty for saying no, even when they feel overwhelmed by the demands of others.

When Eva decided to take to her bed for a year, she was essentially putting up a protest, not just against life, but against the deeply engendered fear most women have, no matter how militantly feminist, that saying no means you are some kind of traitor against society.

The picture of women as being biologically programmed to nurture and give is one that is so deeply entrenched that people keep trotting out official-sounding scientific studies to prove this is so.

Townsend explores this issue in a light-handed manner in the character of Eva Beaver, but in between all the comic touches, and there are many, the occasional moments of real sadness and anxiety can be found, and those are the moments that really make the story.

What do you think of Sue Townsend? Have you read any of her books before?

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