WIDOWER’S HOUSE by John Bayley


A Study in Bereavement (or How Margot and Mella Forced Me to Flee My Home)
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The memoirs of an acidic curmudgeon and widower.

After his beloved wife Iris Murdoch died, Bayley (Iris and Her Friends, 1999, etc.) was besieged by well-wishers offering assistance and companionship. Margot and Mella, the two most irrepressible of the gaggle of helpmeets, zipped into his life with a feminine force that rendered the man helpless to avoid their tireless ministrations. One slipping innocently into his bed, the other staging a full-frontal seduction, Margot and Mella riotously overturned the author’s nascent widower’s lifestyle of reclusive seclusion with their zealous determination to help one who does not want to be helped. The ingredients for a delightful farce or comedy of manners lie in bountiful supply within this material, but Bayley fails to take advantage of these possibilities with his snide commentary. Perhaps too honest in his reactions, he assails the reader with his ambivalent distaste for this humorously affable pair. It’s an authorial blunder that casts him as the unlikely villain of his own life story even when he does admit his own culpability in the soap opera around him. Couple this cranky tone with a literature professor’s overenthusiastic affection for literary allusion, and the result distills itself from a heartwarming and breezy consideration of life as a widower into a bitter diatribe against two generous (though perhaps needy) souls. Mercifully, Bayley’s humanity outshines his cantankerousness on occasion, as when he ponders over his life without Iris and finds new affections with his old friend Audi. His love for Iris is plangent and deep, filled with memory and their shared history; his love for Audi is fresh and budding, filled with possibilities and regeneration. Still, since you never know when this crocodile will snap, you’d better stand clear altogether.

Could have been funnier, should have been kinder.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-02561-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2001


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