The consequences of a long-ago murder in New Zealand reverberate all the way to England in Weldon’s latest (Habits of the House, 2013, etc.).
Kehua are the Maori spirits of the wandering dead, and they seem to have followed Beverley to North London, where she is recuperating from a knee replacement and lending a skeptical ear to granddaughter Scarlet’s confidence that she is leaving her husband for a sexy but has-been movie star. “This running away habit can get compulsive,” her grandmother warns, and aging Beverley should know; she’s done a lot of it since she discovered her mother’s bloody corpse on the floor of their New Zealand home, killed by a jealous husband—or was it the lover who might be Beverley’s real father? Little is for certain in Weldon’s game-playing narrative, which keeps cutting away from the main story to a first-person commentary by the author in the midst of creating it, who thinks the basement where she writes may be haunted. The author’s preoccupation with the Victorian-era residents of her house isn’t terribly interesting, nor are her confidences about the process of writing fiction. There’s quite enough plot already in the complicated lives of Beverley and her restless descendants: daughter Alice, who found religion shortly after giving birth to Cynara, whose knee-jerk feminism and newfound lesbianism embarrass younger sister Scarlet and infuriate Cynara’s 16-year-old daughter, Lola, who’s a troublemaker all around. You know a writer is having trouble maintaining focus when she opens a chapter with the words, “Let me remind you.” Weldon remains a wickedly funny observer of the human comedy, and her portrait of four generations of women unsettled by spirits of whose existence they are unaware (the kehua: remember them?) is intermittently moving. But the late arrival of an unknown son and a second murder merely underscore Weldon’s lack of discipline and irritating confidence that every single word she writes is fascinating.
Scattershot and self-indulgent.