The Woman Who Chose Bed Rest: A Novel Worth Reading

A Tempting Premise

If a humorous novel is to captivate readers, it must have a somewhat absurd premise that immediately appeals to a wide range of people. Haven’t we all, at some point, felt unappreciated, burdened by mundane responsibilities, and overwhelmed by the demands of the world? In these moments, lying in bed might seem like the most logical choice.

Eva Beaver’s Unconventional Decision

Eva, a librarian from Leicester, takes this idea to the extreme. She sends her husband Brian off to deliver their twin children, Brian Junior and Brianne, to Leeds University, and retreats to her bedroom. Before settling into her crisp white sheets, she defiantly throws tomato soup on a chair she spent two years embroidering. Eva’s self-imposed seclusion goes beyond a simple withdrawal from the world; even trips to the bathroom become a delicate matter, relying on friends and family to dispose of her waste in giant freezer bags.

A Radical Rethink

However, it becomes clear that Eva envisions a complete overhaul of her entire life, not just her immediate domestic situation. In her stripped-down bedroom, painted entirely in luminous white, she questions her memories and beliefs. Eva seeks to liberate her thoughts from the constraints of received ideas and assumptions that have ensnared her throughout the past 50 years.

Fierce Opposition

Of course, a wife and mother cannot disappear from daily life without encountering strong opposition. Who will cook Brian’s dinners, iron his shirts, or maintain the new fence? Who will keep an eye on their twins, who possess extraordinary mathematical talents but struggle with social interactions? Eva’s mother Ruby and her mother-in-law Yvonne, both unreliable sources of support, complete this family tableau. As Eva’s unconventional choice spreads, outrage and disbelief from others only intensify.

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Surprising Developments

As Eva’s routine tasks and interactions dwindle, unexpected events disrupt her seclusion. Brian’s eight-year affair with his astronomer colleague, Titania Noble-Forester, is suddenly exposed. They establish an alternative household in Brian’s elaborately appointed shed complex, where they indulge their shared passion for stargazing and Benny Hill. Meanwhile, Eva’s twins fall into the clutches of Poppy, a manipulative fantasist who deceives them by claiming that her parents crashed their light aircraft into the white cliffs of Dover. In a welcome yet complex turn of events, Eva meets Alexander, a dreadlocked painter and odd-job man who abandoned a career as a “wanker banker” after causing a fatal car accident that claimed his wife’s life.

Comic Opportunities Abound

With a myriad of characters (and numerous others who come and go randomly), and an unbreakable principle—Eva will not leave her bed—Townsend ensures an abundance of comic opportunities. Fans of Townsend’s previous works, such as the various diaries of Adrian Mole, will recognize her ability to blend pathos and absurdity in her portrayal of suburban life. She masterfully satirizes misfits and malcontents while treating them with tenderness. Townsend also explores the defenses people construct to protect themselves from overwhelming circumstances.

Exploring the Darkness within Humor

While Townsend’s previous works hinted at a darker undercurrent beneath the humor, this novel delves deeper than ever before. Eva initially begins her retreat as a typical housewife, fed up with being taken for granted. Freed from the responsibilities of her children’s departure, she seeks to revive her neglected mind. However, her journey transforms her into a more radical figure—one who relinquishes all forms of comfort and consolation while examining the foundations of her existence. As a result, the book occasionally loses its comedic touch, as moments of bleakness seep in. Ruby’s admission of occasionally longing for death perfectly captures this sentiment: “I’m tired of living down here since everything went complicated.”

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A Literary Trend?

Although two books do not establish a literary trend, it is intriguing to note that Ali Smith’s recent novel, “There But For The,” also revolves around a character who refuses to leave their bedroom. Both novels cleverly explore the immense power a person gains by abruptly halting their own story and how those around them adapt to these human-shaped absences. In the case of Eva Beaver, what surprises both readers and Eva herself is not that she chose bed rest, but that others have not, metaphorically speaking, joined her.

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