Magazine article The Spectator

Here's to the Widow of Fifty

Magazine article The Spectator

Here's to the Widow of Fifty

Article excerpt


by Keith Waterhouse Sceptre, 16.99, pp. 236

June Pepper, handsome-ish, ordinary-ish and adequately well-off, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, had reached a point in her middle age without anything to disturb the sense that her life and emotional security revolved round that of her dynamic newspaperman-husband. For many years as secretary, mistress and wife of Sam Pepper, she had shared his friends, his wateringholes, his tabloid cliches, and when still a few months shy of his 54th birthday he dies of what he amusingly calls the `big C' and a massive heart-attack, she dedicates her widowhood to preserving her servitude in the form of a mental diary addressed to him. The result is the 230-odd pages of Good Grief, an extended monologue on the process of bereavement, and a gradual and querulous growth through disillusion into something approaching independence and selfknowledge.

For the first months of her widowhood every smallest detail of life inevitably reminds June of what she has lost, and even when she forces herself to get rid of her husband's clothes at an Oxfam shop, his spectre returns to haunt and exploit her in the shape of a plausible wastrel wearing one of his suits. The triangular relationship between June, `The Suit' and Sam's unpleasant and resentful daughter of a previous marriage becomes the basis of what little story there is, but Good Grief is less about plot than it is about the long, dreary blank of bereavement.

There is probably a good comic novel to be had out of the whole ghastly, institutionalised workings of the modern grief industry, but whether this is it or June Pepper its ideal protagonist is more doubtful. One of Keith Waterhouse's real strengths as a novelist is his ability to write of dull and ordinary lives without ever being patronising, but in Sam Pepper's widow, with her bag of secondhand cliches that even Anthony Eden would have envied, he has hit a wall. It is true of course that grief and bereavement are not the monopoly of the unusual or interesting, but for a novelist there can only be limited returns in articulating your message through so culturally impoverished a language as June Pepper's.

As an extended piece of pastiche, as a virtuoso exercise in boredom, it has all the verbal skill one associates with Keith Waterhouse, but even its success here is gained at a price. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.