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Death of a She Devil Hardcover
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About the Author
Fay Weldon is now recognized as one of our most important and distinctive literary voices. She published her first novel, A Fat Woman's Joke, in 1967, and has gone on to write over thirty works. In 2001, she received a CBE for services to literature.
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I read the original book a week ago. For some reason, I never got around to it when it was published, nor did I see the movie. So after reading "Life and Loves", I was pleased to find Weldon had written a sequel. The first book was filled with disagreeable and ugly-inside and ugly-outside characters. I don't think anyone was particularly "likable", and many readers have a problem with a book filled with unlikable characters. It doesn't bother me as long as the characters are "interesting", which Ruth Patchett and crew basically were. The first book was also seen and considered literally as in the context of the women's rights movement. Fay Weldon had written a book that the reader could consider both entertaining and important. She should have left well enough alone and not written "Death of a She Devil".
Forty or so years have passed since Ruth Patchett changed herself and society. She has been honored by the queen with a damehood and has become Ruth, Lady Patchett. She has moved into Mary Fisher's High Tower, and has a women's movement based in the Tower and an adjoining office and dormitory complex. Ruth's now about 85 and Bobbo is still alive in his early 90's, alone in a Tower room. Ruth also has many female minions who are rushing around trying to do things important for the She Devil. The many rootless characters with odd names, designations, histories, and goals are flung at the reader like "incoming"; we don't know what ridiculous character or plot point is being fired our way. Pretty soon not knowing evolves into not caring. The book's a mess, from start to finish.
Now, we know that Fay Weldon is also in her mid 80's and it's very tempting to say perhaps age has had its way with her writing. But, her latest-before-this-book, "Before the War", is a real gem and is an example of a well-written Fay Weldon novel. I'm looking forward to the sequel. But what happened with "Death of a She Devil"? I don't suppose we'll ever know, but I can't advise your reading it.
The novel concerns itself with the supposed struggle for women to maintain equality—if they could only agree on what that was. The tug-of-war appears to be on several levels: men vs. women, young vs. old, cisgender vs. transgender, dead vs. living, etc. Matters take strange turns as one oddly named Valerie Valeria tries to start a holiday called Widdershins Day. Valerie is a little Miss Mary Sunshine, upbeat, perky, even given to skipping and she stirs the pot in startling and unsettling ways. Not helping matters is the ghost of Mary Fisher. In fact, there is more than one ghost, each one yanking the plot in unexpected ways.
The She Devil of the title, one Ruth Patchett, is aging but still filled with shrewdness…at least on the days when she can force herself out of bed. Her voice looms large but it’s among a bunch of ladies as aging as she is and most of them would be glad to leave the burdens of administration to Valerie, even if the only thing she has going for her is her unbounded, bubbling enthusiasm.
You wonder whether this novel aspires to be political or merely funny in a wry British way. The book struggles to address sexual issues, transgender politics and the changing of the guard. It’s a tangled mess and the ending is oddly unsatisfying, suggesting that Ruth Patchett had nothing more going for her than the aforementioned Mary Fisher.
If you like your stories meandering and peppered with goofy conversations about construction and trans-surgery, be my guest. To me, the book, like the High Tower that looms literally and figuratively over everyone, is a mess of crumbling structure, erosion and unsafe construction.
Ruth, the she devil, is now 84 and tells us about her current life. Bobbo, 94, is bedridden and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but it is doubtful that he does in fact have it, since sometimes his mind seems a bit too clear, and he himself admits that he faked it when he was being tested. He is living in the High Tower and is looked after by a nurse.
Ruth’s children, Nicci and Andy, won’t speak to her. Nicci’s children, the twins Madison and Mason, and Tyler, are grown-up. Nicci’s family go to therapy every week. Tyler is beautiful, but “resentful and unemployed”.
Then there is the ghost of Mary Fisher, wailing in the wind. She is in love with the she devil’s grandson, Tyler.
Fay Weldon writes as engagingly as ever; it was probably just my problem that I found the book unreadable.
Though the book wasn’t for me at this point in time, I’m sure most others will appreciate it.
Top international reviews
It is written at a standard far below the author's capabilities. Sorry Fay, but instead of this novel hooking me from the beginning, I had to plough through it till the bitter end. This is an epilogue that ought not to have been written.
This is not a heavyweight read at all, it is something that can be dipped in and out of during teabreaks and lunch hours. Most enjoyable. Everyone gets old.
Brilliant characters and a prose full of mirth.