Sue Townsend’s ‘The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year’

With such an intriguingly absurd title, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the book as it sat on the shelf in WHSmith amongst a crowd of pleading others, so I whisked it away (after paying for it) and hoped that it would be an agreeable train-journey companion. I must admit, we tried to get along, but I ended up being far more interested in the passing views out of the train window, which slowly evolved from London greyness to countryside greenery. This probably says more about my attention span than the quality of the book. I have since read the book, more than a year after I bought it, and really enjoyed it, after getting over the first couple of chapters where I had to accept a woman who I both felt great sympathy for as well as great annoyance. I think that these opposing feelings made the read even better, because I just couldn’t imagine how a year in bed would be passed, and, how the year would eventually come to a close. But here, Townsend, who unfortunately died in April of this year after struggling with a too constant influx of illnesses, tapped into a universal thought… the thought of just staying in bed forever, or the foreseeable future anyway. Bed means safety and self indulgence. I know I have often thought, after a particularly hard day, that I would go to bed and never get up again.

Thankfully, for Eva Beaver (who is The Woman Who…), it was not solely about avoiding life and one’s responsibilities, far from it. It was more about finally finding time for herself, to give herself some wonderfully selfish me-time. Although a beautiful woman, she reached the bump of mid-life and felt the unavoidable drag of a mild-life. Townsend, who was most revered for her Adrian Mole stories, stuck to her true form and splattered the text with homely humour and very unusual events and visitors. There is certainly a kind of humour lurking behind the desperate circumstances of the book. Imagine being Eva; the twins that you committed the last seventeen years of your life to, are complete social disasters; your frumpy husband is incapable of looking after himself, but still somehow manages to bag himself a mistress, who ends up coming to live in a shed at the bottom of the garden with said frumpy husband; and you are continually distracted by a wave of people, old and new, who clutch onto your patience which you had specifically reserved for yourself during this, indeterminate, but whole heartedly deserved, bed-time.

It is a story of a woman who has just had enough, but thankfully, Townsend did not make it a depressing read about Eva’s solitary, sorrowful, struggle, but more about how one copes with the mechanics of living in your bed for a year and the humorously characterful visitors it may bring. It does not shy away from the necessities of life, like the complication of needing to use the loo, needing to do exercises to keep mobile and free of bed sores, as well as covering what happens when you get forgotten or people lose their patience with you. Unfortunately for Eva, who at first tries to help those who are inspired to her story until it gets too much to handle, ends up shutting out everyone, even her children. They, granted, never showered her with love, but still. She also shuts out handy-man Alex, a dread-locked painter who cared for her when her nearest and dearest became unreliable. But the threat of his reliance on her was just too much. Her stand was against people needing her, against being constantly, domestically, leant upon, and therefore having nothing left for herself. She came very close to ruining everything, with Alex, with her mother, and with herself.

As I mentioned earlier, I did find Eva really quite frustrating at times. I understand, though not to the full extent, the reasons why she would want to shut herself away after a draining seventeen years worth of being mother, daughter, wife and daughter-in-law; being a part time nanny I can see how ungrateful and disrespectful behaviour could fester away within you and eventually tear you apart. However, being in bed meant that everyone had to then care for her, feed her, monitor her. Alright, so needing your (cheating) husband to feed you isn’t a big ask, but that’s the very point, towards the end she didn’t ask, she expected, assumed, required, and if it didn’t come, well then, she would just waste away, and she nearly did. It is a typically woman thing to do; to expect people to know what you want. As quite an independent person, I found that unsaid reliance almost repulsive. I was also very disappointed in Eva when she missed the funeral of someone within her family, I found that overly selfish.

In the end, however, Eva finds that she does need people and that those who love her, unconditionally, would scoop her out of her rut before it became her death bed. Sometimes, going to an extreme is the only way to free yourself of a life that was devoid of anything that made you , well, made you want to get out of bed in the morning.

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