‘Mrs. March’ by Virginia Feito – An Appalling Mrs.

 

‘Mrs. March’ by Virginia Feito      (2021) – 288 pages

 

Too many novelists seem to figure that if you like their main characters, you will like their novel. However I’m prone to think that writing novels is more than creating ingratiating characters.

I was ready for a fiction where the main character is unpleasant and unlikable. Writers such as Patricia Highsmith and Daphne du Maurier were rather successful writing this kind of novel where the main character is not at all someone the reader would want to know. The Mrs. March in this novel is that kind of woman, quite repellent. It takes real talent for a writer to pull this off, and this is Virginia Feito’s first novel.

Here is just one example of the evocative writing style in ‘Mrs. March’ that I really like:

Mrs March strolled through the cereal aisle as if she were sightseeing along the ChampsÉlysées. It had always seemed to her the most curious of aisles, with all the garish colors on the otherwise uniform boxes, the cartoons threatening to leap out at you, screaming for you to choose them.”

George and Mrs Marsh would seem to be living the good life in an upper class neighborhood in New York City. George is a best-selling author. Mrs. Marsh has a maid Martha to do most of the work around the house. They have one eight year old boy Jonathan. They throw lavish catered parties for their friends and neighbors.

However nothing here is as it seems.

The trouble starts when the woman in the pastry shop asks Mrs. March if she were proud that the main character Joanna in George’s new novel was based on her. This stuns Mrs. Marsh since Joanna in the novel is a pathetic prostitute whose clients only paid her out of pity and who is ugly and stupid. Mrs March flies into a rage and vows never to shop at this place again.

If someone behaves toward her in the least way that reflects badly on her, Mrs, March will exact her revenge.

Everyone and everything in the novel is seen through her judgmental sophisticated upper-class eyes. She is continually hoping that terrible things have happened to the people she comes in contact with. Here is Mrs. March when her sister Lisa and her husband come to visit for New Year’s Eve dinner:

As she welcomed the couple inside, greeting them warmly, Mrs. March was thrilled to see that Lisa’s hips, tight under a hideous woolly skirt, had broadened. It always brought her joy, the sign of any physical deterioration in her sister, no matter how slight.”

The character Mrs. March is a nasty piece of work. And if the slightest thing goes wrong, Mrs. March gets hysterical.

Her mind is loaded with horrific obsessions. She spots a large cockroach on the bathroom floor and smashes it with her slipper leaving a black jelly-like stain on the tile. “Out damn spot” she shouts out loud. The reference to Lady Macbeth is surely intentional.

She also has vivid terrible suspicions concerning the people closest to her.

After seeing a newspaper clip while rummaging among her husband’s things, she becomes suspicious that he raped and murdered a young woman while on a hunting trip to Maine.

Novels this eccentric and peculiar are rare and special.

 

Grade:    A

 

 

8 responses to this post.

  1. This is my book of the year, without a doubt. I loved it. The narrative voice, the building tension, all was fantastic/

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi Cathy,
      ‘Mrs. March’ didn’t get hyped as much as several other novels this fall, but it is special, especially since it is Virginia Feito’s first novel.

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  2. I have a copy that I haven’t yet read, but I’m certainly looking forward to it. I don’t require a positive protagonist to enjoy a novel (and I really hate seeing a book get dinged because the reader “couldn’t identify” with a character!). Doesn’t sound like this will be a problem with Mrs. March!
    On a side note: did you notice that the covers are different with the U.K. and U.S. editions? The U.K. shows the roach, the U.S. simply a pair of elegant gloves.

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi Janakay,
      I did see that English cover before, but I hadn’t noticed the roach crawling on her dress.
      England seems to have a much stronger tradition of novels with main protagonists that we readers would be ambivalent toward or would laugh at or would even intensely dislike. Maybe that’s why I read so many English novels.

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      • I also have a decided tilt towards U.K. authors. The simplest explanation for me is that I get many of my recommendations from The Guardian but I actually think my preference goes a little deeper than that. After all, “English” literature is studied equally with American in public schools, or at least it used to be; also 19th century British classics such as Trollope, Austen et al were far more appealing to me than Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper or Nathaniel Hawthorne. As you say, perhaps it’s simply that there’s a stronger tradition of using ambivalent narrators!

        Liked by 1 person

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        • England, not the US, is still the center of the literature-in-English world, although Ireland seems to be catching up. I, like you, follow the Guardian’s recommendations quite closely. The US has a very limited amount of classic literature, while England always has another author to rediscover.

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  3. I just reviewed this one too and I agree: it’s a brilliant novel. It was such wickedly good fun!

    Liked by 1 person

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