‘The mussels sat silently in the bowl; they were dead.’,
This review is from: The Mussel Feast (Peirene's Turning Point Series) (Kindle Edition)
A mother and her two children, a son and a daughter, are waiting for the father to come home. The mother has prepared an enormous bowl of mussels. While she doesn’t like them very much herself, they are her husband’s favourite dish and so she has spent a long time scrubbing the mussels in cold water. The family waits: he is usually home at six o’clock. He is not home at six o’clock, and while the family waits we learn more about the father and his role in this family mainly through the thoughts of his daughter.
‘It’s astonishing how people react when the routine is disturbed, a tiny delay to the normal schedule and at once everything is different – and I mean everything: the moment a random event occurs, however insignificant, people who were once stuck together fall apart, all hell breaks loose and they tear each other’s heads off, still alive if possible; terrible violence and slaughter, the fiercest wars ensue because, by pure accident, not everything is normal. Broadly speaking, that’s what happened.’
As we wait with the family (where is this father, and why is he late?) the other family members become more alive and step slightly outside the roles they seem to have assumed within the family when the father is present. Time ticks by: perhaps he’s not coming home, but will anyone really care? He has been critical of his wife and of his children, he is inflexible and seems to be uncaring. But in his wife’s words:
‘There is much goodness in him, and he is as noble as a man without real love can be.’
This is a powerful novella. We are left to do our own thinking and form our own conclusions about this family and especially the father’s role. Early anxiety – about making sure that everything is just right for when he returns – decreases as the wife and the children seem to become more relaxed (and how can this be?). And we readers are drawn into the scene: wondering about the father and why he is late, and his impact on his wife and each of his children. We don’t meet the father in person, but by the end of the novella I don’t like him any more than I like the mussels.
In fewer than 120 pages, Ms Vanderbeke creates a story that expands beyond the situation she has described. It took less than two hours to read this novella, but I’m still thinking about the characters. Wondering about the father, and about what happened once the final page was read. Thinking that there has to be more to it.