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Novel of a toxic relationship set in North LONDON

28th February 2024

The Final Hours of Muriel Hinchcliffe M.B.E by Claire Parkin, novel  of a toxic relationship set in North London.

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Novel of a toxic relationship set in North LONDON

Muriel and Ruth are in their 70s and have been ‘friends’ since childhood. They have a chequered history, yet here they are living together, with Ruth (Roo) acting as carer for Muriel (Moo), confined as she is to her wheelchair and needy of attention and succour. Their relationship careens between spikiness, hostility, neediness and warmth as they play rounds of Scrabble, trying to outwit each other and score points.

Muriel received her MBE for services to publishing, she was a lauded romantic novelist in her time. Ruth was a  good journalist who had a varied career. In their childhood years Muriel was welcomed into Ruth’s home, where her mother favoured the incomer at the expense of her own daughter, leaving Ruth craving love and nurture over her lifetime. Ruth married and found she could not have children and was verbally skewered for this by her mother. Her husband turned for solace to Muriel who welcomed him with open arms. They then married and had a son, much to Ruth’s chagrin, although she had an incurable and deadly attachment to the son that wasn’t hers. And thus the competitive nature of their relationship continued throughout adulthood. Are you up to speed? Put it this way, their boundaries and motivations are pretty skewed.

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As a reader, we are never clear who the victim is in this relationship, and it is wise to remember that wherever a victim lurks, there is always a persecutor nearby 😉 – and that these ‘roles’ are interchangeable. In this regard, the author creates a wonderfully well observed toxic relationship between the two women. The Twits by Roald Dahl has clearly proved inspirational. The reader knows that somehow Muriel’s life will come to an end, given the title, but there are plenty of diversionary tactics, and twists and turns, ramping up the passive aggressive interchanges and downright hostile and nasty remarks and observations along the way – before she dies.

The novel is well written and beautifully observed, with digs and dark humour highlighting the shifting dynamics of power and control, detailing events that are creatively misremembered. I didn’t much enjoy spending time in the company of these noxious women, to be honest, who really cared only for themselves, and destructively outwitted each other at every turn. But I was fascinated and drawn in by the level of deceit and escalating vitriol.

This is a well put together storyline that wonderfully captures the shifting dynamics of a toxic relationship.

The setting of North London and its inhabitants is intuited (since when did plantation shutters have to get such a dissing?) through the kinds of shops and characters that are perceived as stereotypical of the area.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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