The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson Ellis
|The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson Ellis|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Louise Jones|
|Summary: Who was Mrs Walker and why did she die alone? An investigator follows a paper trail and discovers the significance of the strange assortment of items that the deceased left behind, in this unique and dark novel.|
|Buy? yes||Borrow? yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: March 2016|
|External links: Author's website|
A photograph. Six orange pips sucked dry. A Brazil nut with the Ten Commandments etched into the shell. An emerald dress dripping with sequins. This is the legacy of Mrs Walker, who died alone in a freezing Edinburgh flat, drinking her final glass of whisky. Nylons wrinkling at the knee, white hair hair dyed red, scratches on her cheeks, hollow bones and a liver like paste. Who was Mrs Walker and why did she die alone?
Shortly after Mrs Walker's death, Margaret Penny arrives in an unwelcoming Edinburgh, in the grip of the second coldest winter on record. The prodigal has returned home, guided by the flip of a coin; heads to the North, tails to somewhere else. She soon finds a job tracking down the families of the indigent and her first assignment is to find out who the recently deceased Mrs Walker was and whether she had any remaining family. With very little to go on, Margaret searches for clues and slowly starts to piece together the fragments of Mrs Walker's life.
The Other Mrs Walker is part mystery/part family saga, written from various narrative points of view. The story bounces forwards and backwards along the timeline to reveal slivers of information about the Walker family and how their lives and fates changed during the war years and beyond. As readers, we are privy to all sorts of information that Margaret does not know, as we follow her investigation and her attempts to discover the first name of her deceased client.
I should warn readers not to expect a cosy mystery or an endearing family tale here. This tone of the book is very dark and covers subjects like child murder, rape, abortion, prostitution and paedophilia. Paulson-Ellis has a raw and visceral writing style, which is both beautiful and disturbing in equal measure. Even everyday objects are not immune from her gritty prose: ...a couple of rashers of bacon laid out like two pieces of flesh sliced from the thigh of a child. The narrative is evocative and poetic and her realistic descriptions of a bleak and cold Edinburgh had me shivering and reaching for an extra blanket.
This is no light read, nor a book to be skipped over quickly. The Other Mrs Walker demands absolute concentration and involvement from the reader. The narrative is multi-layered, with a number of plot threads and is steeped in symbolism. It's a game of 'find the lady' in more ways than one; tracking down the true identity of Mrs Walker, whilst trying to keep tabs on the locations of the Brazil nut, photograph, painting, brooch and other items intrinsic to the plot. The book only gives up its treasures to the most committed reader. The first thing you will want to do when you have finished the book, is to read it all over again to see what you missed the first time: Mrs Walker's death scene at the beginning of the book takes on an extra dimension once you have read the entire book and understand the veiled references to events that occur in later chapters.
Mary Paulson Ellis is more than just an author. She is a word artist and her prose is her canvas. We see shades of light and dark, repetition and symbolism, which combine to create a unique work. She is an exciting writer and definitely has a successful career ahead of her. Many thanks to the publishers for allowing me to read her début novel.
Keen for more Edinburgh-based fiction? Bookbag recommends Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin, another absorbing novel that begs to be read and reread.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson Ellis at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson Ellis at Amazon.com.
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