Jess takes care of her husband’s elderly relatives. His aunt, then his mother, and finally his uncle all live in Jess’s family home under Jess’s competent care.
Then, one night, her husband Jacob goes to the pub and never comes back. Did something happen? Did he have an accident? Where is he?
As Jess’s happy life of devotion begins to unravel, so does her sense of self. She felt happy, she was certain she was living the right god-filled life, but was she simply complacent, taking her husband’s care as read, devoting herself to him and his family as a way out of recognising the loss of being able to bear children? Did she devote herself to him in the way she should have devoted herself to God? Was she really suffocating, self-righteous, prim?
Jess’s midlife self-reflection is quietly consuming. There is something very British about the way Jess has lived with guilt and repression. Despite her priggishness, Jess appeals to me immensely. She strives. Where once she strived with a sense of her own rightness, now she strives in a flurry of uncertainty and fiery emotion. The admission of imperfection, the expression of every human’s need to feel that they belong is beautifully expressed.
The Web of Belonging isn’t a shout aloud novel, it’s not a thriller or even an overtly literary novel; what it does is take the everyday and reveal the intensity of thought and desire that flows within it.
I don’t think this is a book everyone would have time for. There is something pious about Jess that might put readers off, but I really engaged with her struggle to make sense of life and love. I’m sure you’ll know from this description whether it is for you or not.
Later this week I’ll post a review of Fred and Edie by Jill Dawson, followed by The Dark by John McGahern.