It’s hard to believe that this year marks the 30th anniversary of Sue Townsend’s bestselling The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾. It seems no time at all since I first read it and so many details, from Adrian’s spots to his obsession with Pandora Braithwaite, have stayed in my head to this day.
Penguin has just brought out a special edition of the book to celebrate (with a foreword by mega-Mole fan David Walliams). And if that’s not enough, Townsend’s new novel has just been published in hardback.
The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year is the story of Eva Beaver, a 50-year-old wife and mother who reacts in a very extreme way when her teenage twins leave home for university. Eva disconnects the phone, chucks tomato soup over her favourite armchair and goes to bed, not for a quick kip, but for a whole year.
After spending her entire married life looking after her astronomer husband Brian and their gifted but distinctly odd children, she wants some time to think.
As word spreads about Eva’s bizarre behaviour, an army of onlookers gathers outside the house. Some are convinced she’s an angel with special powers, while others swamp her with fan mail and set up a ”Woman in Bed” Facebook page in her name.
With her own family utterly wrapped up in themselves, the only kindness comes from two strangers – the window cleaner and a dreadlocked white van man who helps her empty her bedroom of everything except her bed and paints the whole room white. Her mother is as mystified as everyone else and tells a local TV news team that Eva’s always been “a bit strange.”
The Woman Who Went To Bed for a Year is a patchy read and it’s occasionally hard to keep track of all the walk-on characters, but it’s also a funny, poignant and often bleak look at modern family life. One moment you’re chuckling at Eva’s tortuous instructions to her inept husband on how to “do” Christmas. The next you’ve got a lump in your throat at the ghastliness of being married to a two-timing husband who’s more interested in who’s going to cook his dinner than in talking to his wife. Actually, I reckon Brian’s bedtime routine – which involves gargling, spitting and hunting for spiders under the bed with a fishing net - would be grounds for divorce. Let alone his affairs, sludge-coloured clothes and dreadful mother.
The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend (Michael Joseph, £18.99)