16 March 2021

Review: Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden is a literary feat exploring the grave topic of death. Mrs Death is portrayed as an old poor black woman overlooked by those who pass her by never knowing she holds their very lives in her hands.
"Only she that is invisible can do the work of Death. And there is no person more silenced than the woman, talked over, walked over and ignored than the woman, the poor woman, the poor old woman, the poor old black woman, your servant bent over a mop, cleaning the floor of a hospital. Did you see me today? Did you walk past?" Page 201
The portrayal of Death as anyone but a man in a dark robe with a scythe wasn't a shock to me and I was easily able to visualise Death as an old black woman. In the movie adaptation of The Shack by William P. Young, actress Octavia Spencer played the role of God and her performance was sublime. Mrs Death's character brought to life by Salena Godden with an expert hand was equally sublime.

However, when we meet Mrs Death she's exhausted by her work and seems to be seeking solace. Wolf Willeford is a struggling writer and when he purchases an antique desk, his connection to Mrs Death is strengthened. Mrs Death talks with Wolf and he begins to transcribe her stories.
"Mrs Death walks with me there. She tells me the river is one of her oldest friends. She says the Thames is filled with ghosts and old spirits. The floor of the River Thames is littered with engagement rings and the bones of dead babies. We stand together on the shore; we grow cold in the black shadow of the ghosts of slave ships, the clatter of the traders, the unloading of stolen goods and treasure, coffee, sugar and human cargo. Shadows of souls and the clatter of bones." Page 52
Wolf also transcribes stories of particular deaths that have stuck with Mrs Death over time. The Moors murders and the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 are just two examples. On other occasions, Mrs Death attempts to impart her knowledge of the world in a direct appeal to Wolf and all of humanity in her advice on how to live life.
"To die is to have been alive, that is why you must live: live free, live wild, live true and live love alive. Let the fire burn you and the light blind you. Let your belly get full and fat and embarrass you. Let your words fall out and tumble carelessly and honestly. Let your passions be unlimited. And do your lifetime all in your own life time. And let all your shits stink and all your roses bloom. May your every success be a threat. Fuck being scared and infected with fear and doubt. Own your rejections and own your failures; they are an excellent wall to smash and to kick against. Every morning may you rise to fight and to create yet again, this time with both fists, and not with one hand behind your back." Page 64-65
This quote comes from an epic chapter narrated by Mrs Death and the entire chapter is full of quote-worthy moments I wanted to share here. Speaking to all of humanity and of course directly to the reader, Mrs Death says:
"I am Mrs Death and I am coming for you all. Accepting me is the first step, after that it gets easier, I promise you. Knowing me, knowing this, knowing that, that this all ends, is the best knowing you need to know." Page 65
We even get a chapter from the perspective of the Desk belonging to Mrs Death. You might harbour grave concerns this couldn't work but I can assure you it does. On reflection, it was one of the most enjoyable chapters of the entire book. Here's why.
"I have recorded every inky scratch of quill, the tap of her typewriter, the whisper of pencil and the slash of her fountain pen. Splashes of ink, wine and time. Now just put your ear here, Wolf, rest your head on my surface, you'll hear all the ghosts of scribbling pens of dreams from before. Stroke your fingertips gently across my red skin, as though it is braille, you'll be able to trace the hard-pressed writing from before." Page 86
The writing is sensual and full of life, love, death and meaning. The format contains many character perspectives and straddles multiple genres including fantasy, short stories, true crime and poetry in an overall presentation that felt unique to this reader. Beautifully presented in a hardback edition with black and gold dust jacket and complementary gold end papers, Mrs Death Misses Death is published today and I'm dying to discus it with other readers. (Sorry, couldn't resist).

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden addresses our mortality head on and doesn't shy away from the ugly nature of life, love, suffering and loss as we know it. It's definitely a wake up call for readers and a reminder of the misery and wonder of humankind while offering a life-affirming and hopeful message. 

Author Salena Godden took me with her on a literary exploration of the important themes in life including: love, loss, time and death and I know I'm the richer for it.

Highly recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

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