“Sharp, wicked humour” – Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden #GordonBurnsPrize

Caution: Do not exceed death.

This work has a very high dead and death count. Take with caution. Take your time. Do your lifetime in your own life time. If you are sensitive or allergic to talk of the dead or non-living things use this work in small doses. This is not a self-help brochure. This is not a guide to avoiding dying. If you think you are about to drop dead, please seek medical advice immediately.

IMG_20Dec2021at004019Mrs Death has some stories to tell and the time has finally come to commit them to paper. Instead of doing that herself, she is a very busy person after all, it is young poet Wolf, who after buying a desk through which he can communicate with Death, starts to record their conversations.

Death, is an old black woman, who shapeshifts to blend in with her surroundings. She is always there working, doing the difficult, hard labour that Life gets to skip, and which people do their best to ignore even when confronted by her. Wolf is a struggling writer based in London. Living alone in a bedsit and falling too deeply into the dark corners of his mind, meeting Mrs Death could be the creative impetus he needs. Wolf, aside from the desk, seems to have a knack for connecting with stories, reports, and the live version of death. As a child his mother died when their tower block went up in flames. He escaped, missed death, or she missed him, but was forever touched by it nonetheless.

Godden uses vivid images to recreate past tragedies or to reflect back recent ones. The fire Wolf’s mother died in is reminiscent of Grenfell. A constant reminder that survivors live lives that are continually touched by pain and that justice is something that still looks out of reach as the past repeats itself. She continues this by including reports of past murders and stories of women who go missing and of those who must know something band together in silence. Death breaks that silence. Godden manages to connect the past with the present with ease, highlighting how negligence and accepted loss continue to cycle through time while adding to Death’s workload.

If at the moment you are struggling to decide if this book sounds deeply serious and sad, or full of humour, then it is both. Being able to shift tone without the reader even noticing is something that Godden excels at. She can talk about death and dying, without engulfing the reader, and can inject lightness and humour with a stroke of her pen.

Godden is a poet – this being her first, but hopefully not last, novel. Her skill with words and ability to bring out the poetry in each moment shines through Mrs Death Misses Death. The words slide from one page to the next, carrying the reader along with them.

At times the narrative voice blurs, slipping between Wolf and Mrs Death, in the same way Mrs Death slips in and out of her different personas to go about her work. This is done with an intense clarity that makes each word choice and narrative change feel natural. Like the easy blending of poetry and prose that defines this novel.

Mrs Death Misses Death is remarkable in terms of both writing style and content. Godden writes with a light touch that makes each chapter easy to devour. Written with such skill, and melding of poetry and prose, it is highly doubtful if a review will ever come close to capturing the beauty of the text or the sharp, wicked humour.

Any Cop?: Mrs Death Misses Death is highly recommended. It became clear early on that I would run out of adjectives when trying to sum up what makes this novel so great.

Laura Marriott

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