Top positive review
39 people found this helpful
bonkers but brilliant
on 5 October 2009
I bought this book after reading a review that claimed the book was "extremely good, but really rather bonkers". My mother had been persuading me to read Fay Weldon for ages, so I thought I'd give this one a go. I can tell you that the reviewer was exactly right! As a whole, the novel is brilliant - very funny, lots of sharp one-liners, and some wonderful insight on what life was once like, and what it might be like in the future. And the plot is pretty strange... The book is told from the point of view of Frances,a sister that Fay never actually had, who is now aged eighty and is living in the near future (2013). Frances has clearly lived a life very like Fay Weldon's real life - become a famous author, married lots of times, been something of a feminist, etc - while her sister, the fictional 'Fay', is a struggling cookery writer living in Australia. I'll have a go at outlining what happens, though it might be better to just read the book without knowing the plot, as there are surprises around every corner.
Frances is trying to hide from the bailiffs who want to take her Primrose Hill house in lieu of her debts. All the banks have collapsed during the Crunch (sound familiar?!) which was followed by the Shock, the false Recovery and then in 2013 the Bite. No-one has any money, except maybe the sinister-sounding government, who have sealed up everyone's back doors, and have CCTV on every street corner. Food is scarce and everyone lives off National Meat Loaf, which may (or may not) have something to do with government scientists and human meat...
At the same time as telling us all of this, Frances (aged eighty) is recounting her life story, which is hilarious as well as being fascinating, as we are (I'm pretty sure) supposed to guess that this is really based on Fay Weldon's own life. There are lots of interesting and funny musings on things like feminism, art and fate; some great descriptions of what life was like in various decades (she characterises the middle-classes in the seventies when she shouts at her daughter 'Venetia, time for supper, your avocado is ready!')
And, simultaneous with the 'real time' (Frances hiding from the bailiffs, worrying about her grandchildren, talking to her daughters) and the 'past time' (Frances telling her life story), Frances also becomes less and less sure what is real and what is not. So you get this sense of sliding in and out of reality - perhaps because of her old age, or maybe just because she is a writer and used to fiction. Sometimes Frances tells you when she is writing fiction and when it's fact, other times its up to the reader to figure it out.
All of this adds up to a really satisfying read. Its darkly funny, sharp, witty and insightful, as well as being completely original, which is a rare treat these days. I think it would be a perfect book for a bookclub as there is just so much to talk about: unreliable narrator; power of government; fact v fiction; old age; memory; does fate exist; parallel universes; feminism; the role of the past in interpreting the present. Phew! such a lot in a small book!