WHEN TO WALK by Rebecca Gowers


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A momentous week in the life of a bright, withdrawn young English woman whose husband has just left her.

A self-described “hack” travel writer with a noticeable limp caused by a teenage illness, Ramble is shocked, but somehow not surprised, when her husband Con informs her that their marriage is over. Telling her cruelly that she is an “autistic vampire” who needs to find her own life, the obnoxiously self-absorbed Con is right about one thing—Ramble is an especially insular character. She prefers books to meeting new people and while she possesses a keen mind constantly buzzing with fascinating bits of information, she nonetheless has difficulty communicating. She even avoids telling people for days that Con is gone, increasing her isolation. Con does not say where he is staying or what she should do about the rent. But he has, it appears, taken up with their streetwise new neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, a couple of low-level criminals specializing in credit-card fraud and “fixing” meters. While trying to absorb this unexpected twist, Ramble walks around in a kind of post-traumatic haze, going through the motions of her normal life while trying to make sense of the past choices that led her to her current crisis. Showing flashes of dark wit and a slow-to-emerge vulnerability, Ramble ultimately manages some meaningful interactions within her small circle, including a visit to her senile grandmother Stella and an unexpectedly sensual evening with childhood friend Johnson. She also finds an unlikely ally in the tough-talking Mrs. Shaw, whose stories of her own husband’s regular disappearances help Ramble gain perspective on her own difficulties. These various characters, along with some quietly devastating insights, give our heroine courage for the literal and metaphorical steps she knows she must take, making the conclusion of Gowers’s occasionally inscrutable debut heartening indeed.

A sharp, literate roman à clef for readers who like their female empowerment free from sentimentality.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-84195-946-7
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Canongate
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2007