George Marsh had written another book.
Virginia Feito was raised in Madrid and Paris, and studied English and drama at Queen Mary University of London. Mrs Marsh is her debut novel. She lives in Madrid. A movie starring Elizabeth Moss is on the cards.
These are the things one quickly learns, when you Duck, Duck, Go this novel. The publisher blurb also tells us that Mrs Marsh is,
Shirley Jackson meets Ottessa Moshfegh meets My Sister the Serial Killer in a brilliantly unsettling and darkly funny debut novel full of suspense and paranoia….A razor-sharp exploration of the fragility of identity and the smothering weight of expectations.
I have not read any Jackson or Moshfegh but I did read My Sister the Serial Killer a couple of years ago with a great deal of satisfaction. That reference, and the amazing cover, was all I needed to take a closer look.
I have yet to read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, but I have seen the movie, The Hours that plays homage to it. I know that it follows Mrs Dalloway through her day as she prepares for a dinner party. Mrs Marsh also starts with preparations for a dinner party. This dinner party is in honour of George Marsh and his new novel. Mrs Marsh is busy organising caterers, flowers, decorations and the staff.
I suspect, though, that Mrs Marsh is far more anxious and paranoid than Mrs Dalloway could ever be.
Thanks to a remark by the lady who works at Mrs Marsh’s favourite bakery about how the main character in her husband’s new novel resembles her, Mrs Marsh is thrown into a tizz. A BIG tizz. The main character in the new novel is a whore – an old, unattractive whore that no-one wants to sleep with anymore.
This one remark sends Mrs Marsh down a rabbit hole, where the reader is left unsure what to believe. Is she going mad? Or is she right to suspect that Mr Marsh has ulterior motives? Is she being manipulated by those around her? Or is she an unreliable narrator? Completely deranged or a victim of gaslighting?
The build is delicious.
Feito keeps us in suspense from page one, slowly, inevitably building the tension. There are cringeworthy moments, bizarre occurrences, revealing childhood memories and off-kilter remarks. The time period is never quite determined either. Are we living in the 1960’s complete with Jackie Kennedy outfits and recipes and old-fashioned Christmases? Or is it a more modern era with technology, new kitchen renovations and quick travel? Is Mrs Marsh living in a time of her own making, a time where she feels safe? Or is Feito messing with our heads as much as Mrs Marsh?
Viewing the world through Mrs Marsh’s eyes is anything but comforting. Everything feels dangerous and people don’t react the way she expects or wants.
She sat in her booth, rehearsing in her head the different ways she might reject the men’s advances if they were to approach her. In the end they did not come anywhere near her, and when they put their coats and hats on, she threw a few crumpled bills onto the table and hurried to the exit, giving the men one last chance to assail her as they all walked out. The men did not acknowledge her, let alone hold the door open for her, and her face burned as she stepped out into the cold.
The ending is abrupt and shocking. Or at least, it shocked me.
I finished it a week ago, and I’m still thinking about it. Watching Elizabeth Moss make this role her own in the movie version, will be a delight to behold. If only Alfred Hitchcock was still available to direct it!
Highly recommended to those who like a book that gets under your skin in subtle and disquieting ways, and completely creeps you out.
The gossipers have lowered their voices | Willing words to make their rumours certainDylan Thomas | The Gossipers | c. 1932
Epigraph the second:
In this strange Labyrinth how shall I turne, Wayes are on all sids while the way I misse
The second epigraph is inserted right at the end of the book to preface the final two chapters. It is from A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love by Mary Wroth (1587 – 1653). Both poems have been turned into A Poem on Thursday post (the Wroth poem will go live this Thursday). Click on the links above to view the poems in full.
Title: Mrs March: A Novel Author: Virginia Feito ISBN: 9780008421724 Imprint: 4th Estate GB Published: 27 July 2021 Format: Paperback
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.