Forty-seven year old Margaret returns, reluctantly, to Edinburgh Â after the bright lights of Â London have gone out.
She has lost her job, and her married lover, and being allowed (grudgingly) to stay with her mother, in a decrepit tenement flat, is the best she can hope for. When Margaret is offered a job within an obscure council department, she finds herself tracing a local woman – Mrs Walker – who has died alone, apparently without any family or documentation. Margaret attempts to piece together Mrs Walker’s life.
Slowly, the identity of (The Other) Mrs Walker comes to light. Or does it? Mary Paulson-Ellis has created a clever story incorporating constant time-shifts, complex characters, and vivid descriptions of war time London and an altogther greyer contemporary Edinburgh. Readers are one step ahead of Margaret in that we get to see multiple, interlinked lives unfold as they happen; Margaret, in lieu of a paper trail, is dependent on such random recurrent motifs as orange peel and an emerald dress…
This, Paulson-Ellis’ debut, is an intriguing and challenging – ultimately rewarding – read. It demands concentration, yes, but more than that it requires an ability to leave your comfort zone and acknowledge the darker side of ordinary life. Â The characters all either suffer, or cause suffering, or both – on a scale of bleak to evil. The claustrophobia and powerlessness of their lives rarely lightens up, and on occasion, I was longing for someone to get a break – and not of the bone variety. That said, the one darkish but cheery note that appealed to me was the presence of an enthusiatic ecumenical ‘indigent rota’ that ensures nobody is ever despatched alone to their eternal reward.
It is a tribute to Paulson-Ellis’ writing that whilst I was irritated by most of the characters, most of the time, I believed in all of them, I was curious about them, and always interested in finding out what Margaret would come across next.
I’d certainly recommend The Other Mrs Walker, but don’t be misled by the tag-line of the novel being ‘ a detective story with no detective’. In a way it is exactly that; in another it’s something entirely different. Long after you’ve finished reading, you might well find yourself wondering whether both you and Margaret really know The Other Mrs Walker after all.
Published by Picador (Â£5.99) and available as a hardback and aKindle eBook.