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Playing dark room


The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year By Sue Townsend Penguin, 437 pages Best Price: Rs 395 (21% off) at shopping. indiatimes. com

We all have Those Days. And some of them get so bad that all we want to do is dig ourselves into a hole and pull it shut behind us. Since that is physically not really possible, many of us prefer to lie down in a darkened room until we feel better again, sane enough to face the rest of what That Day may have in store for us. Of course, it is rare that we react so strongly that we stay in that aforementioned darkened room for more than an hour or two, at most, since most of us are essentially rational human beings. But Eva Beaver is not any of us, sadly for her, or perhaps not sadly at all. After all, she managed to stretch that hour or two into a whole year, finally emerging in a state - of mind, that is - that seems to be out of some alternate reality.

Eva Beaver is a librarian from Leicester who is suffering from a rather exaggerated version of the empty nest syndrome, compounded by the stress of having to live up to the expectations of everyone around her and, oddly enough, a husband who is having a long-term affair with a colleague and prefers to live in the garden shed. The couple's twin children, Brian Junior and Brianne have gained admission to Leeds University and Mr Beaver, confusingly also Brian, has been asked to take them there. And for 50-yearold Eva, it becomes a turning point.

It all goes as planned. Eva takes a good look at herself in the smoked glass oven door, her lovely, always-lipstick-mouthed face, her pale eyes searching for that elusive something, her black clothes (though sometimes she did wear grey) made more starkly elegant by the red of her Clara Bow lips. And then she does what she would never have imagined herself doing - she picks up a pot of tomato soup that someone had left still simmering on the heat and throws it deliberately, with carefully aimed precision, over the chair she had spent two years embroidering in silk damask. Then she goes upstairs to her bedroom and climbes into bed, shoes, clothes, lipstick and all.

And there she stayes Of course, in the beginning there were the expected arguments, the yelling, the begging, the coaxing, but the bed was so comfortable, "She felt as though she had fallen into a vat of warm quick-setting concrete, and that she was powerless to move. " And Eva thinks, "I would have to be mad to leave this bed". But is she really truly mad, or is she just trying to reevaluate her existence, to figure out whether it is worth living the way she has been, subject to the whims, fancies and idiosyncracies of her multifarious family? She has her bedroom cleaned out of everything unnecessary and painted luminous white, discarding a lifetime of routine and relationships that essentially have little if any meaning.

The cast of characters wanders through, none with any real impact on Eva's mind and life. Brian, Brian Junior, Brianne, Poppy, Titania, Ruby, Stanley, Yvonne. Nobody matters beyond the noise they make. And, as Eva tells her husband, she needs to think, "I haven't used my brain for so long the poor thing is huddled in a corner waiting to be fed. " But then Alexander comes along, a dreadlocked odd-job man and painter who quit his job as a banker after crashing his car and thus killing his wife. But will Ruby
accept what he has to offer and find the comfort and space she has been looking for while snuggled into bed?

Thirty years ago Sue Townsend wrote The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, which became a bestseller and was the first in a series of seven more of its kind. That book, as well as several others from her prolific pen - keyboard? - and a number of plays all make their surprisingly sharp points about the human persona and psyche, nicely frosted in humour and circumstances that could be perfectly normal in the lives of all of us, but for that little kink that makes it so poignant, so ironic and oh-so real.

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