Saturday, February 21, 2015

Madame Bovary's Haberdashery - a review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Funny, subversive, the point in the universe where Emma Bovary and Jane Marple intersect.

I was worried, at first, the author Meehan knew a little bit too much about how I spent my 20s - overweight knitter with a penchant for op shops in a co-dependent, not particularly healthy relationship with a promiscuous, artistic best friend.  Fortunately the similarities end there.

Everyone in this charming, engaging and darkly sly humourous novel is delusional, narcissistic, criminally manipulative, misogynistic, fraudulent or many of these in combination..

Odette, the beautiful free spirited potter who, "lurching unreflectingly from one style to the next, one man to the next, saw herself as living in wild freedom, just like any male artist" shares a house and a lover, Zac, with her friend Cicely.  Odette and Cicely have been best friends since primary school.  Their relationship is fractured by the manipulative, jealous and intellectually fraudulent Zac.

"Cicely has opinions, but she keeps them to herself".  Cicely has published a mildly successful erotic novel and keeps herself in tea and wool by creating knitted pieces to sell in Miss Ball's Haberdashery.  Cicely is overweight and suffers from hallucinations brought on by her failing vision and later by her dependence on pain medication.  It is through her hallucinations that Miss Marple assists Cicely solve the mystery of Odette's disappearance.

All of the male characters are unpleasant, misogynistic manipulators; while the women are competitive and manipulative.

I worry that Odette is returned to Cicely and is "redeemed" through murder and childbirth to, presumably, be held captive in Odette's dream haberdashery.  But perhaps that is the joke at the heart of the book.

While I enjoyed the novel (not least for the primary role of the fibre arts and the confirmation that crochet is evil, or at least created under hallucinogenics) I might have understood it better if I was more familiar with Flaubert's Madame Bovary.  I suspect I shall read it before long, even if it is written by the antithesis of an Australian woman.  I am better acquainted with Miss Marple and loved how Maurilia Meehan imagines her for Cicely.

I am also glad that Cicely achieves her dream of owning her own shop, the haberdashery of the title, and a room of her own.  But are we all such manipulators and are all our dreams realised at the expense of others?

SOURCE: Libraries ACT


Olivia said...

Intriguing review, I think I'll look out for this one, but might try to read Madame Bovary first. It doesn't sound very pleasant, but fascinating all the same.

2paw said...

Oh I read Madame Bovary many, many years ago at Uni. It sounds quite an intriguing book!!