Susan Strong is falling apart. Her being is decaying like a radioactive isotope. A man from outer space called Fairly Dave plops into her shower tray after squeezing through the showerhead from another dimension. He has come to try and help restore her bodily and spiritual integrity. For she is at the centre not only of her twin boys' universe, but of the very universe itself. If she disappears, the universe likely will dissipate with her.
In the same way she holds the universe together, she is fighting to stem the perennial tide of domestic chaos, of cleaning, laundry, cooking et al. But it is this humdrum existence that is at the root cause of her disintegration, for somewhere in her unconscious she doesn't feel whole, remaining unfulfilled with life. Her husband seems remote and receding from her. With Fairly Dave as guide, she undergoes a series of journeys through time and space to reintegrate parts of herself lost and forgotten, or trapped as frozen memories or as less well defined traces such as a smell or a sound. And in this scary new universe where anything can happen, Wells ingeniously shows the mundane tools of the domestic to be persecutory monsters stealing her energy and soul away, such as hoovers, fridge freezers, garden gnomes and lost socks. Ironing boards however can go either way! "Everyday you are saving the universe from your kitchen sink" Dave tells her, which is neatly double-edged, as she both keeps the universe orderly through being stationed at her sink with Marigold gloves, and yet the kitchen sink et al, are also revealed to be a threat requiring rescue from. She needs liberating from the realm of the domestic.
The book is charming, whimsical journey through a world where the domestic meets hard science. However Wells is very light touch so as not to inundate the reader with the abstruse; science here is often employed as a metaphor for other ways of seeing and conceptualising our existence, flowing and dovetailing with the surreal world of dream imagery and the very human traces of sights and smells recovered from childhood that have stayed with us but lain buried like an archaeological seam. The book echoes both Doctor Who and Douglas Adams, but its sensibility of a sickness of the soul is I think handled in a more contemporary way. "After all these years she realised that a supermarket trip was an occasion of mortal combat against the forces of cynical consumerism".
There is a fair sprinkling of wondrous passages of writing, not least describing the power of her husband's drum solo as he too discovers a certain fading away brought about by pursuing a life that didn't give vent to his suppressed dreams and aspirations. The one thing I struggled with during the middle of the book, were some of the transitions between the dreamlike travels and being back behind the sink in her house. These switches may well have been deliberately intended to be vertiginous, but they left me floundering trying to figure out what had just happened and what actual dimension the characters were in. But this was a minor quibble really, as it didn't stop the flow of the plot.