Margery Blandon is an eighty-year-old widow. She lives by herself in the same modest inner-city worker’s cottage her late husband brought her to after their marriage. She has the same daily and weekly routines she’s followed for years, but Marge’s world as she knows it is under threat. Judith, her daughter, is determined to move her into a nursing home, not for Marge’s well-being but for her own selfish needs. Marge’s eldest son, Walter, an ex-boxer left with permanent brain injury, supports her efforts to retain her independence, but he has ulterior motives too. And Marge suspects her second son Morris, who hasn't visited her in years, might have committed a crime.
The inner-city Melbourne suburb Marge lives in is also turning against her as the tide of gentrification laps at her fence posts. The house next door is flattened and replaced by a gargantuan McMansion. The neighbours she’s known for so long are slowly succumbing to dementia and old age.
Amidst all this upheaval, Marge slowly begins to suspect that everyone around her has been lying, or at least withholding the truth. Is her daughter trying to kill her? What does her old neighbour and lifelong nemesis know about the truth of her marriage?
The back blurb of this book states that the author has written a ‘darkly humorous portrait of a family’. It was certainly dark, but not humorous for me. In fact, it was quite a disturbing read. The helplessness which Marge experiences as she is let down first by her physical and then her mental incapacities made for uncomfortable reading, perhaps because her struggles were so accurately portrayed. The deceptions of those around her, who were meant to support her, made it even harder to read. At the same time, Marge is not always a sympathetic character in that she seems to have wasted her life, squandering opportunities for friendship and never experiencing anything approaching joy.
The novel does end on a more upbeat note, but I was still left feeling a bit depressed at the thought of all those elderly people out there who are passionately (perhaps unrealistically) opposed to being sent to a nursing home and yet are ultimately let down by their frail bodies and minds. If this was the author’s intention, then she definitely succeeded.