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Book Review: Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden

Mrs Death Misses Death will not be a book for everyone. To be honest, I wasn’t sure it’d be a book for me.

It’s hard to pin down what this book actually us – it’s part fantasy (which I never read), a bit of magical realism, bit of fiction and poetry.

If you’re a fan of structure and plot then this may be one to avoid, it’s more allegory, heavy on message rather than straightforward storyline; having said that, I rather enjoyed it.

I loved the use of poetry; I liked the different structures used throughout; it manages to be both dark and light-hearted at the same time and it did challenge me because I have never read another book quite like it.

At this point, I guess you’re wondering what this book is all about. Well Mrs Death, is death. Rather than a hooded figure with a scythe, death here is personified as a series of black women.

After an eternity of doing her job, Mrs Death is exhausted, has PTSD and is looking for someone to unburden her soul to. She meets Wolf Willeford a young writer who is well acquainted with death having lost their mother as a child in a tower block fire – a reference to the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 that should never have happened.

Wolf begins to write Mrs Death’s story, Wolf travels with her across time and place to witness deaths of the past and present. They discuss what the future holds for humanity and reflect on their losses. 

It does sound rather heavy, but it is a novel filled with hope and light despite its difficult subject matter.

It’s a concept I found interesting, and I loved the re-imagining of death as a woman, stating that the greatest trick played on humanity is making us believe that death is a man. Arguing that “For surely only she who bears it, she who gave you life, can be she who has the power to take it?”, which, makes sense 

I liked the concept of her being a shape shifting black woman moving through the world incognito, unseen, unheard because as she says, “there is no human more invisible, more easily talked over, ignored, betrayed and easy to walk past”.

I liked the references to how we collectively (and publicly) grieve every time a celebrity dies, the idea of us feeling connected to a complete stranger, how we often fail to recognise the real heroes, the everyday people doing their bit to help others.

I loved her take on the futility of war, the exhaustion she feels in Syria. The thousands of refugees who drown each year, the thousands who are left starving.

There are constant reminders that while death is inevitable, there are also thousands that are preventable and caused by incompetence – rather apt considering the world continues to live through a global pandemic that has been poorly managed by the UK government – the message is that these tragedies should not be repeated.

It’s written as a series of poems, songs, stream of conscious and a transcript of a therapist session Mrs Death has. It does in places feel a bit bizarre, it did at times leave me wondering what on earth was going on, but I don’t think I’d expect anything else from a novel written by poet.

It could have been a real doom fest and it is dark, but there are moments of humour and it does (if you can persevere with the style) leave you with hope.

“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.” Salena Godden

Give it a go, you may be as surprised as I was.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

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