Few books do you race through for it having the prose and the imagery that won’t allow you to put it down. Salena Godden‘s debut novel Mrs Death Misses Death is precisely one of those titles, intoxicating and life-affirming simultaneously, a title that grabs you with the first word, caresses you in parts with an occasional punch in the guts, until you race to the end. For a debut it’s a extraordinarily vital read.
Salena Godden is one of Britain’s best loved poets and performers. She is also an activist, broadcaster, memoirist and essayist and is widely anthologised. She has published several volumes of poetry, the latest of which was Pessimism is for Lightweights, and a literary childhood memoir, Springfield Road. It is hardly surprising to see her blow us out of the water with this first novel.
Mrs Death has had enough. She is exhausted from spending eternity doing her job and now she seeks someone to unburden her conscience to. Wolf Willeford, a troubled young writer, has had many dealings with death but until now hadn’t met Death in person. In this instance a black, working-class woman who shape-shifts and does her work without herself being spotted.
Wolf becomes Mrs Death’s scribe, and begins to write her memoirs, engaged with her stories. Using the desk as a vessel and conduit, Wolf travels across time and place with Mrs Death to witness deaths of past and present and discuss what the future holds for humanity. A wonderful reflection that gives you space for question and relativity. Despite the life-affirming goodness that Wolf and Mrs Death concern themselves with throughout discussion, Death must continue to hold humans’ fates in her hands, appearing in our lives when we least expect her . . .
Personally, the entire chapter on time is so deafening, in that it has a pronounced impact on the now, and this feeling during lockdown of it running away from us, more than ever. A beautiful piece of work that lingers by you whilst you continue through the novel. And as for the novel as a whole, it is a beautiful exploration of kindness, time, control and space, significant for these slower, more reflective moments.
Mrs Death Misses Death is out on 28th Jan 2021, published by Canongate