Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Book of Eve by Constance Beresford-Howe (book group)

The Book of Eve is the tale of a 60(+)-year-old woman named Eva who decides, pretty much on a whim, to leave her life and start over on the $16 in her pocketbook and her tiny pension cheque. Her life had consisted of making a home for and taking care of an invalid husband she never really loved. She finds a room to rent and little ways to make herself more comfortable and happier, if shabbier.

I was surprised that Eva had stayed so long in a life that was relatively comfortable but which was also making her silently unhappy; then I realized this book was published in the early 1970's and that while divorce wasn't unheard of for younger couples, for a woman who had been married for forty years or so, abandoning her marriage would have been huge. And of course, there are times she considers going back to her husband. Her adult son tries to talk her into going back. She even almost does, but even when she finds her new situation completely depressing, she still thinks it's better than what she left.

And though Eva isn't a particularly social person in her new life, she does, after a while, make some friends--and finds herself with a new lover, the Hungarian who lives upstairs. I liked the Hungarian way more in the beginning of their relationship than I did toward the end of the book; I felt that if she stayed in the relationship, she was in danger of falling into a life similar to the one she had left. (Albeit with a man she at least felt passion for.) But I'm not going to tell you what happens with that.

Overall, the plot's pretty basic (which makes for a mostly quick read), which is to say the story's completely about Eva's character, and though she puts herself in a situation for which many people would judge her, readers never really feel that they're qualified or justified to condemn (or condone) her actions; we must just sit back and watch the outcomes of her decisions.

This is a surprisingly satisfying book. I'm not in love with it, but I enjoyed the crafting of the characters, even when I didn't like them. Not recommended for everyone, but if you enjoy a more literary sort of book (and/or creating feminist critical analysis while you read), go for it.

I read this book months ago, but when book club decided to postpone our meeting till September, I rescheduled the posting of my review. And when I checked the review, it had disappeared. Grr.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a fascinating book that I would enjoy. I think my mother would love it, though.

Zibilee said...

I had not yet heard of this book, but it sounds oddly compelling to me. I liked your review, it really made me want to further explore this book. I am going to be adding this to my wish list right now. Thanks!