Author, Book review, England, Faber and Faber, Fiction, literary fiction, Mick Jackson, Publisher, Setting

‘The Widow’s Tale’ by Mick Jackson


Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 256 pages; 2010. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The chairwoman of the 2010 Orange Prize, Daisy Goodwin, recently came out and said she was a bit sick of female novelists writing about misery. “There’s not been much wit and not much joy, there’s a lot of grimness out there,” she told The Guardian. That might be true, but fictional misery isn’t the sole domain of women writers. The Widow’s Tale, by Mick Jackson, is a case in point.

Jackson, who’s probably best known for his Booker shortlisted novel The Underground Man (which I haven’t read), focuses on an unnamed woman coming to terms with the death of her husband. She’s in her early sixties and has fled the marital home in order to escape the unrelenting and unwanted sympathy she feels she does not deserve. Holed up in a rental cottage on the windswept Norfolk coast, she cuts herself off from friends (she has no family — the couple did not have children) and tries to put her life into some kind of perspective. She does a lot of thinking, a lot of walking and hits the bottle more than she should. There’s the constant worry that she may, in fact, be losing her marbles.

Written in diary style, the book charts the narrator’s emotional ups and downs. The writing is rather effortless but goes off on bizarre tangents as she recalls incidents from the past. It takes a long time, at least one-third of the book, to discover that the grief she feels is not so much for her husband but for herself. Secrets are divulged, but once you learn what’s eating her, it’s hard not to think, is that it?

In fact, The Widow’s Tale isn’t that much of a tale. There’s certainly not much of a plot, and the only real character in the whole book is the narrator. Her husband is so hazily drawn that he is frustratingly unknowable. The same could be said of her best friend, Ginny.

But despite these flaws the book is very readable, perhaps because the prose style is uncluttered and to-the-point. And the narrator’s voice is completely believable, never whiny and often comic.

It’s not a book that will grab you by the throat, it’s too gentle, too subtle for that, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of a woman on the brink of a nervous breakdown as she reflects on a 40-year marriage that was not all that it seemed.


14 thoughts on “‘The Widow’s Tale’ by Mick Jackson”

  1. Kim, if you can get hold of The Underground Man I think you will enjoy its quirkiness, especially since you are an Aussie and you probably find British aristocrats as strange and droll as I do.


  2. I have a review copy of this sitting waiting to be read at home (although it’s now going to have to wait until after the Orange). I’m intrigued by it, and I do like those subtle sorts of books, so we’ll see how I get on with it… eventually!


  3. This sounds very similar to ‘Jumping the Queue’ by Mary Wesley. There seems to be quite a few books like that around.
    There was an article in the Times over the weekend about the comments made by Daisy Goodwin. I cant remember who did the article but it was a man who wrote that men also write alot of depressing stuff. He blamed writing courses.


  4. Hmmm sounds a bit like some of its hit and some of its miss. I hadn’t heard of this or the author before I think I would be more likely to give the man booker listed one than this one as this one sounds good but doesnt quite grab me.


  5. I completely agree re the husband: that was one of the things I found most annoying about the book – why call something ‘The Widow’s Tale’ when so little is about the business of being a widow?


  6. I looked this up online and it does sound delightfully kooky. I love watching those Country House type programmes on TV — as much as I love seeing the houses, it’s the eccentric owners that really fascinate me!


  7. Yes, I quite like subtle books too… I did get a few laughs out of this… and a few shocks too… I guess it just ended so abruptly I was left wanting more, because surely you couldn’t just stop the story right there? Maybe it will be one of those books that worms its way into my brain and I’ll be thinking about it months later, wondering whatever happened to the main unnamed character…


  8. Oooh, I missed that article. Have tried to find it online, but can only see a bunch of stuff by Daisy Goodwin. Still, perhaps the chap is right: it’s all the fault of writing courses. (Daisy seems to blame book groups.)


  9. I want to read the Booker shortlisted one now, especially after Lisa’s comment made me go and look up the synopsis. It sounds really really kooky, about an aristocrat who just does eccentric things, like build tunnels on his property so he doesn’t have to walk on the road. Genius!


  10. The Bears of England sounds as delightfully eccentric as The Underground Man. I’m afraid The Widow’s Tale is not at all eccentric. Well, maybe a little, towards the end, when the main character starts acting very obsessively, but on the whole this is a pretty straight-laced book, a little glum and with just a smidgen of humour to lighten the load.


  11. Well, she does harp on and on about suddenly realising she’s a widow and what a horrible thing that is, but she doesn’t really tell us much about the chap she was married to all those years, does she? I kind of wanted to know a little more about him… and what drove her to do the thing she did that I’m not going to reveal here lest I give away a major plot spoiler!


  12. I just read this and absolutely loved it. I think Jackson has brilliantly captured what it feels like to live with anxiety and depression, and then be widowed on top of all that. By writing down her tale, as she holes up in the cottage, she is, in effect, sorting through all the stuff in her head. She is trying to make sense of the past, trying to find a way to live in the present, and trying to find a reason to carry on in the future. The book hit all the right notes for me.


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