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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Letters To An Abandoned Husband

The Pull of The Moon - Elizabeth Berg

When Nan hits fifty she suddenly feels that her long-term marriage to Martin has been stifling her for years. So she sets off on a road trip without a map, encountering people and places and in the process discovering who she really wants to be and what form she wants the rest of her life to take.

The novel takes the form of diary entries and letters to her husband in which she details the ways in which he’s prevented her from being herself and describes the new awareness she is developing in response to the challenge of the menopause and the invisibility of old age.

There is some good writing in this novel and some acute observation, often very amusing, particularly about growing old. Here's an example.

‘A woman a bit older than me told me she recently found a hair under her chin and it terrified her so much she got in her car and drove for fifty miles - nowhere, just around in circles. It was a black hair, she said, stiff as a whisk broom. When she came home she locked the bathroom door and got out her eyebrow tweezers and pulled the thing out. She said she looked at it for a long time, and then she flushed it down the toilet - flushed it twice. After that she spent a good fifteen minutes checking her face for more hairs. She said she had heard about this happening, testosterone landing on the female shore, but she thought it would surely not happen to her. She was blonde, fair-skinned, had barely ever needed to shave her legs. She said it was literally horrifying, that her heart beat so hard when she found that hair she thought for a moment about going to the ER, but elected instead to drive around in circles, then come home to tweezers and a locked door and a fervent prayer that this was a one-time phenomenon, that it would never happen again. It’s so humiliating, she told me. It's like you’re being punished for something and you’ve no idea what you’ve done wrong except age. She didn’t really hear what she said, she didn't hear the natural acceptance in her voice of the idea that aging is a crime. But I did. And when I heard
it in her, I saw it in me.’

But there are also a great many clichés about marriage and about gender relations and too many unlikely conversations with strangers, generally long-suffering women, who unburden themselves with improbable candour and insight on the subject of the inadequacy of their marriages. At times I felt like I was listening to a slightly tipsy Anne Tyler without the usual leavening compassion.