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Shelf Awareness: "Weldon at her sardonic best."

Date: Sep 28 2010

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In 1985, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil was published, not to universal acclaim. It was just too much for some readers. Others, this reader included, found it the echt revenge novel; none before or since can touch it. Weldon is funny, cynical, sardonic and, best of all, snarky. She lets all of these writerly attributes out to play in Chalcot Crescent.

 

As a preface, Weldon writes: "Two years after I was born, my mother had a miscarriage. Had she not, I would have grown up with a younger sister. This is the sister's story, set in an alternative universe which closely mirrors our own." A sobering thought, since this is a darkly dystopian portrait of 2013 England, a country where the downhill slide began with "The Shock in 2008, and after that the Crunch, and the Crisis, and the phoney Recovery, like the phoney war--and then the Squeeze and Inflation and now the Bite...." Does all this sound vaguely familiar?

 

Frances Prideaux, octogenarian, writer, mother and grandmother, is sitting on the stairs of Number 3, Chalcot Crescent, hiding out from the bailiffs pounding on her door to repossess her belongings. She has frittered away her fame and fortune and is now deeply in debt. Her grandson Amos, a junkie and former jailbird, is there with her, with an agenda of his own. Frances is ruminating about her life, the boyfriend she stole from her sister and married, the many men she had in and out of her bed, not "being there" for her best friend's daughter, the interwoven lives and relationships of her lovers and her family. Indeed, it seems that the only people left in England are related to Frances by marriage or blood. And what a bunch they are.

 

Her grandchildren, invited by Amos, are breaking out the walls of her upper rooms to gain access to the house next door so they can exit out the back and avoid the CiviCam. These young revolutionaries are plotting a coup against NUG, the National Union Government, composed not of politicians but of sociologists and therapists who double-speak in the soothing tones of the lecture hall, not the war room.

 

Weldon captures perfectly the accommodation powerless and oppressed people go through in order to survive deprivation, rapid change and growing hopelessness. Relief from all this is found in Weldon's recounting of Frances Prideaux's triumphs, mistakes and choices, one of which saves her family.


Shelf Talker: Fay Weldon at her sardonic best, examining dystopian England in the near future, and one family's part in its causes and cures.