In the first novel from the poet and performer (whose previous works include Pessimism is for Lightweights and Springfield Road), Death is not the Grim Reaper but Mrs Death, an elderly, black, working-class woman who has had enough of it all. She decides to unburden herself to Wolf Willeford, a struggling East London poet who will write her memoirs. What follows is an original, exuberant novel, freewheeling from prose to poetry to non-fiction, as Wolfie tells Mrs Death's story across the ages, and also his own. Truly one of a kind-don't miss it.
The effect is to produce a collage of speech and speechlessness, a story that sometimes slips away from you even while you are reading it, becoming a memento mori in form as well as content. In other words, it’s exactly the sort of thing you expect when a poet writes a novel, and exactly the sort of thing you’ll devour if you like huge helpings of experimentation with your fiction. This is not light-hearted stuff, yet Godden has produced a miraculously light-hearted novel, leavened in the right places with a caustic, perceptive wit.
Mrs Death Misses Death is both a balm to a bad year and a reassuring accompaniment to a new one. “Humans still have so much to learn. But in times of difficulty, when you are in pain and trauma, accidents and emergencies, you draw breath together, you connect, you’re most tuned in and alive and alert.”
So Wolf decides to write her memoir. What follows is a mish-mash of history, poetry, feminism, racial politics and oral storytelling techniques as Wolf encounters the stories of Jack the Ripper victims, murdered hitchhikers, suicides and dead musicians, alongside that of his own mum, killed with many others after fire ripped through a block of flats.
Godden’s free association approach is a defining, animating force but also serves as a fig leaf for a sloppy book.