The Crowded Bed by Mary Cavanagh

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The Crowded Bed by Mary Cavanagh

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: A cleverly written book that starts with a murder then takes us back in time to see what prompted it. Thought-provoking with great characterisation.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: January 2007
Publisher: Transita
ISBN: 978-1905175314

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The book begins with a prologue. The author invites us to watch Dr Joe Fortune as he prepares to murder his father-in-law, before getting back into bed with his sedated wife Anna. Spine-chilling, particularly as the author adds that Joe is aware that he has sinned, but does not care.

Immediately we're taken back to 1955 where Joe is five years old, raised by a loving but rather claustrophobic Jewish family: his two parents and two grandparents. Then we're taken to 1965, when Anna is five years old. The scene here is a formal Christmas dinner where Anna feels ill and is severely reprimanded by her strict father.

Thus the stage is set for the rest of the book, which is helpfully described as taking place in both the present and the past. This is exactly what happens. Each chapter begins in one of the days leading up to the murder, written from Joe's perspective. Then there are lengthy flashbacks to the past, in both his and Anna's childhood and teenage years and their early adult life. The main point, perhaps, is to show how even cold-blooded murder can sometimes seem entirely justified.

I was a bit ambivalent about reading this book. The blurb on the back tells me it's about revenge, mutual hatred, cruelty, violence and shocking revelations. It sounds over-dramatic and rather exhausting. I don't like thrillers; I like peaceful stories with happy endings. Having finished the book, however, I don't think the blurb does it justice. This is a character-driven novel which is very cleverly crafted, revealing the past in such as way as to build up a clear and positive picture of both Joe and Anna, and many of their relatives too. There is violence and unpleasantness, but it's not described in gory detail. By the end of the first chapter, I could quite see why Joe wanted to murder his wife's ghastly father.

Not every incident is explained in full at the time, so there's a gradual unfolding of the various subplots in ways that manage to seem entirely natural. No awkward pauses for thoughts about what had happened; instead we move almost seamlessly between the years, with each scene building on what has gone before and hinting about what is to come. The revelations happen gradually, so the shock isn't too great. And there's a bit of ironic humour here and there, too, that made me smile inwardly.

It was thought-provoking, too. By the end, I was fully sympathising with Joe and hoping he wouldn't be detected as a murderer. I also found myself thinking about other issues that came up naturally in the book: religious and racial intolerance, incest and adultery.

If I have a complaint about this book, it's the amount of bad language. Not so much the expletives used under strong emotion, but the casual use of the same words to describe acts of love. It wasn't so excessive as to put me off entirely, but I did get a bit bored of seeing the same four-letter word repeatedly and (in my view) unnecessarily.

Still, as a debut novel, this is impressive. I look forward to reading more by this author in future.

We've also enjoyed A Man Like Any Other: The Priest's Tale by Mary Cavanagh.

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Buy The Crowded Bed by Mary Cavanagh at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Crowded Bed by Mary Cavanagh at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Crowded Bed by Mary Cavanagh at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Crowded Bed by Mary Cavanagh at


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