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Psychological fiction set on the Upper East Side, MANHATTAN
9th September 2021
Mrs March by Virginia Feito, psychological fiction set on the Upper East Side, Manhattan.
“Nastily good fun” screams the review from Metro. “….darkly funny…” states the Amazon introduction. I don’t go along with either of these epithets but I do agree that it is “..full of suspense and paranoia..” and there is some humour to lighten the tenet of the novel.
This is the story of Mrs March, who remains a formal character without a christian name, who is married to successful author George March. He has penned a novel, at the heart of which he depicts a rather unprepossessing and vapid prostitute. As the novel opens, Mrs March is at her local deli ordering her staple olive bread, when she is alerted to the possibility that the character in her husband’s novel might just be based on herself. This sends her into a dizzy spin and the ripple effect of this understanding informs the trajectory of the novel.
The inner workings of her mind are gradually revealed. She hosts a party for her husband and his novel in their apartment, where they entertain the friends, hangers-on and some ghastly people from the publishing world. She views the whole proceedings through narrowed eyes before she retreats from the mêlée.
Her world view starts to fracture. She is convinced her husband has had something to do with the death of a young woman in Maine. Paintings rearrange themselves and appear unfamiliar – yet nothing has changed, yet the way she perceives people and life around her certainly has. She goes shopping and she intuits that she is being assessed by those with whom she has contact; this is paranoia writ large.
She does all the usual, mundane things that would preoccupy a well-to-do woman in her milieu. Her inner ills start to be projected out onto insects, the cockroaches are manifestations of inner turmoil. She is in fact demonstrating all the signs of being one of Freud’s erstwhile ‘hysterics‘, a condition which is now termed conversion disorder. This is the outward manifestation of inner distress, attributable to a past, traumatic event. Indeed, the author alludes to something possibly untoward when Mrs March, as a young teenager, found herself in Cadiz on holiday with her family – it is never spelled out, but there is perhaps a reason for including the random trip to Spain.
There is dark humour and there are many astute observations, but overall this is a woman teetering on the edge of psychological disintegration and so I cannot countenance that the novel is nastily good fun as per Metro’s description. As a reader, we enter into her world and start to perceive the mental workings of someone whose thought processes are several degrees out of kilter.
There has been discussion about the era in which it is set. The style and man of the descriptions feel as though the narrative is set in the 1950s, but given that Mrs March offers her credit card details over the phone and there is mention of a microwave, it feels more that the author has added to the discombobulation by messing with time.
I imagine Mrs March is not given a christian name to keep the audience at a distance, in the manner of Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt – the reader is not invited in too closely, so that that her story can be appreciated objectively. Do we ever really know who the real Mrs March is?
This is a starkly coloured and propulsive story of distress and dislocation that can, at times, be disturbing and depressing. It is very well written and a very solid debut, with nods to Mrs Dalloway, Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith. Elizabeth Moss will be starring in the big screen adaptation.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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