This novel tells the story of one year in the life of a middle-aged stay-at-home mom, her forty-first year. Eva Holden is a Polish immigrant who married British lawyer Harry and leaves with him in an upper-class neighborhood not too far from London. They have two young children, and in an effort to ensure a better for his family, Harry hatches The Plan, which consists in him working abroad for a year to avoid high income taxes and increase making his chances of making partner. While Eva agreed to The Plan and vowed to make her best to make things work and be supportive to Harry, the situation proves to be much harder on her than she expected. A fight over the repair or replacement of frayed drapes risks becoming a metaphor for a failing marriage… The trials that Eva and Harry go through in that long, difficult year force both of them to reconsider what really matters and the ways they will adopt to both be happy and healthy, and keep their family financially secure. The issues they encounter are not very different from what many couples go through… and they find their own special ways to manage them.
We gradually discover through Eva’s reminiscences and her encounters with old connections that she has led a complicated life with many ups and downs, and that she is far from being the angelic, blond mother of two that she may appear to be. In fact, two old relationships come back to haunt her and risk derailing the efforts she has made a building a respectable life.
Some things struck me as I read this book:
- There was no description of contact with other Poles while Eva was in England. While she is somewhat close to her family and visits Poland regularly, she does not seem to associate with her countrymen while in England. This is very different from my experience of having a partner from a Greek family. Given the size of the Greek community in our area, there are Greek churches, Greek community centers and cultural associations, as well as Greek businesses scattered through the metropolitan area. I have a hard time conceiving of a Greek immigrant remaining completely disconnected from all this, which seems to be the case with Eva.
- The description of disconnectedness, fatigue and lack of motivation associated with Eva’s post-meningitis depression feel quite realistic, as well as the mood swings of post-partum depression. It is interesting that given the stigma associated with mental illness, the author would choose to portray this. But then this book is relentlessly down to earth and realistic in its descriptions of difficulties that many people go through in life but may not choose to talk about due to fear of social ostracism.
- In also enjoyed Eva’s reflection on social change in Poland as well as her thoughts on whether she still belonged or was a stranger to her own country. This is also an experience quite common to many immigrants who maintain ties with their country of birth.
In summary, this book was a good exploration of what gives meaning to one’s life, of how one makes sense of the unintended consequences of life choices, and how one creates a good future even on shaky foundations. It also looks at how we can forgive ourselves for our own real or imagined transgressions, and keep believing in our own power to move forward.
While in the beginning of the book, I felt that Eva was portrayed as the oppressed party in the relationship with some exaggeration, Harry’s point of view and perception of their situation (as well as their occasional mutual inability to see the other’s point of view) eventually made its way into the story and into their conversations, to add to the complexity and realism of the relationship.
The author offers a bibliography of works of nonfiction and fiction that have influenced her, which includes Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and the answer to everything is forty-two…
Daria, Lesia. Forty One. Matador, UK, 2015.