Fay Weldon is an irresistable blend of compassionate wisdom and deliciously nasty wit, and her consummate twenty-first novel is a tour de force. From its hilarious opening (“I’ve never seen a dead body…can i come too?”) to its satisfying final conflagration, it is a taut, scathing revelation of the nature of marital intimacy. Released from the safety of the conjugal hearth into the howling gales of widowhood, it’s hard to tell if Alexandra is losing her sanity or just her friends.
When Alexandra returns from her stint on the London stage as Ibsen’s sweet and timid wife Nora to find her real husband mysteriously dead of a heart attack and her female friends ominously invested in smoothing out all the complications of the tragedy, she begins to be suspicious. At first she attributes this to grief, and then to paranoia – perhaps she’s simply going crazy? – but the smug managerial tactics of solid Abbie, the fussy, invasive ministrations of the aging but still glamorous Vilna, and the vacant, mournful stalking pf plain, pathetic Jenny Linden weave together into a creepy conspiratorial veil between Alexandra and the truth of her own supposedly picture-perfect marriage. She finds herself starting to crack, crank-calling her friends’ psychiatrist, attacking people with kitchen chairs and breaking into their houses, searching furiously for evidence to confirm her husband’s rampant adultery and her own worst fears.