Fiction – paperback; Flamingo; 240 pages; 2003.
This is one of those rare books that is almost impossible to review without quoting the whole novel from cover to cover. Pretty much every clipped and stripped back sentence in Paula Fox‘s The Widow’s Children resonates with meaning and provides startling insights into the ways in which family members interact and play games with one another.
Originally published in 1976 and only recently back in print via Flamingo, The Widow’s Children is peppered with eccentric characters, many of them wholly detestable, seething with anger and unspoken hostility.
The lead character, the fierce and somewhat bitchy Laura Maldonada Clapper, is about to embark on an African vacation with her slightly browbeaten husband Desmond. On the eve of their departure they throw a small party in their New York hotel room for a select group of people: Laura’s unspecified male friend Peter, her gay brother Carlos and her daughter from a previous marriage, Clara. The party eventually moves onto a restaurant in Manhattan in which family members struggle to control their rage about things said or not said in the past.
The lynch-pin of the novel is the fact that Laura, one of those hard-nosed women of whom it is impossible to say no, is withholding information: earlier that day she was told that her mother, the matriarch of the family, had died. It is only when this information leaks out that the real family fireworks begin.
The Widow’s Children is a short, easy-to-read novel (I devoured it in one sitting) but its brevity should not be mistaken for lack of depth. This is a fiercely intelligent read featuring brilliantly realistic characters. The dialogue is sharp, snappy and often witty, and despite the sometimes sombre subject matter the pathos is tempered by glimmers of unexpected humour. This is definitely a worthy follow-up to her much acclaimed Desperate Characters.
8 thoughts on “‘The Widow’s Children’ by Paula Fox”
I’ve never heard of this author but absolutely love the sound of the book. Thanks for the recommendation, Kimbofo!
litlove, I hadn’t heard of her either, until I discovered “Desperate Characters” in a local charity shop earlier this year. Apparantly she’s more known for her children’s books, but she has also written 6 adult novels, most of which are out of print.
I’m always glad to hear that someone has stumbled onto Paula Fox. I found “The Widow’s Children” back in the 80s in a thrift store and couldn’t believe how someone that good could be so little known. I quickly read all of her novels after that.
It’s great to see that she was finally rediscovered. I can’t think of a writer more deserving of the belated attention. She even did an interview for The Paris Review, a sure sign that you’ve arrived as an author.
This does sound tremendous, Kim – family secrets and resentment are such great themes. Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it!
Hope you can find it, Jacqui. Her books can be hard to track down. I was lucky and found both of these in a charity shop. And in the days when I used to “mooch” books from BookMooch I got a copy of her memoir, Borrowed Finery, which I am yet to read.
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She sounds a little like Penelope Lively or Muriel Spark in the style of her wit?
Hmmm… I’m not sure… I don’t think she’s like Muriel Spark (who I tend to think of as being quite dark and kooky; Fox’s work is very much rooted in realism) and I’ve not read enough Penelope Lively to make the comparison.
Well, kooky is certainly true of Spark’s The Driver’s Seat! To be honest, if I’d read The Driver’s Seat first I’d never have read any Spark again.