This was one of the Waterstones books of the month for March and I always love picking up a few from that list because it often makes me choose a book I wouldn’t normally read. Set in Edinburgh, The Other Mrs Walker promised a detective novel…without the detective. As this novel was partly set in one of my favourite cities and in one of my favourite genres I had high hopes.
Beginning on Christmas Eve, 2010, with the death of a woman known only as Mrs Walker, the novel starts in the very dark and eerie tone which it maintains throughout. There is a surreal feel to the novel, kind of like a film made in dark colours, there is a disconcerting nightmarish quality to the novel in its setting and tone. I was surprised to find the novel was told across different time periods and really enjoyed this division between two stories. We meet the Walker family in wartime London and soon learn this family is unusual and deeply unhappy. It is not at first clear how these two stories connect, however I did guess quite quickly how the two would come together and who Mrs Walker really was. However, this did not really detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I was intrigued, even if I did not always like, the characters and I really enjoyed the descriptive and atmospheric language used throughout. Paulson-Ellis uses repetition of key phrases and images throughout to connect childhood and adulthood memories and bring the characters together. This was very well done as it did not become too predictable or stilted, but instead added an authenticity of women remembering the past, remembering what they had forgotten or coming to learn about memories from before they were born.
This is a very dark and at times gruesome novel. It is heavy going and not an easy read. However, I did read it fairly quickly, I didn’t want to put it down because I wanted to know what would happen to all of the women written about within the novel. This really is a novel about being a woman in different places and times and about the ways in which external forces can effect an individuals experience of being a woman.
For me, the only problem with this novel is that the stakes were not high enough. It promises to be a detective novel however the mystery is revealed fairly early on and the piecing together is not as important as it could have been. I don’t know how to categorise this novel though, it is a story about women, about life and about how secrets can have an impact for generations.
This novel is definitely well worth a read, for the way that it is crafted in both language and plot, but prepare to come out it feeling just a touch more cynical about the world…