"Coventry Dakin's tale begins with her accidental murder of a man. Forced to flee the law, she deserts her council estate, her boring husband and two demanding children for the anonymity of London's cardboard city."
It's difficult to say where or how the old trick of hooking readers via increasingly bizarre or engaging characters' names began: Shakespeare and Dickens were surely early pioneers, while Jasper Fforde continues to hold the flag fly with one of his most famous characters, Thursday Next. Sue Townsend uses this trick in this 1988 novel, allowing the book's title to hinge on it and giving readers extra interest in the protagonist.
This extra interest is certainly needed, for the character of Coventry Dakin is at times a little flat and on the badly-constructed side, as is at times the plot itself. Coventry, and the man with whom she has allegedly had an affair, Gerald Fox, are rather two-dimensional compared with the supporting artists of Coventry's husband and children, Coventry's friend Dodo, the eccentric couple who take Coventry in (Willoughby and Letitia), and Gerald Fox's widow, Carole. Willoughby and Letitia's son Keir is also a rather forced character who adds nothing to the narrative or to the cast of personages that populates the novel.
Equally, the novel's impetus (the murder) is ineffective, and the ending too lacks punch, even though the method by which Townsend commences (in medias res) is more successful. However, this is not to say that this short novel is a waste of time: as previously mentioned, the flip side of Coventry, Gerald and Keir's boringness is more than compensated for by the backdrop of the novella's other hilarious characters, the move from the north to the south of England adds variety, and Townsend's skills in wit and dialogue are certainly no less apparent here than in her other works.
Though on a personal level I find Townsend's The Queen and I to be a preferable novel in terms of both characters, humour and politics, it is worth bearing in mind the difficult task faced by Townsend in the wake of the release of the Adrian Mole series: with such a huge success on her books, the pressure on subsequent works to live up to what has gone before them must be immense. Perhaps some slack ought to be cut.
Other works by Sue Townsend
Womberang (play), 1979
The Adrian Mole series, 1982-2009
The Queen and I, 1992
Ghost Children, 1997
Number Ten, 2002
Queen Camilla, 2006
First three Chapters....
8 years ago