Having spent an eternity bringing death to people, Mrs Death, an old black woman, is now exhausted and has had enough of all this weight and death on her shoulders. Mrs Death meets Wolfe Willeford, a young writer who has a lot going on himself and has been through a lot in his life. Wolf has already met Mrs Death twice. He experienced death firsthand in a tower flat fire that killed his mother and a few other people. Somehow Mrs Death missed his death and let him get away. That is the first time he meets Mrs Death. The second time he meets death is on Christmas Eve when he’s taking a stroll and ends up buying an antique desk. The desk becomes the channel that connects the experiences of Death and Wolf. Through the desk all of Mrs Death’s work rushes through his mind as if he’s travelling through time and space.
“I will be nothing more than a servant to this desk. I am a poetry monk. I am a writing slave to The Desk. I will write everything The Desk tells me to write.”
Through Wolf, Mrs Death finds a place to unburden herself from all the death and shares her stories. Essentially, Wolfe ironically becomes the ghost writer of death writing through Death in the form of poems and memoirs.
This was a fantastic story with some of the most unique styles of writing I’ve come across in a long time. The use of poetry and prose was so well combined and I loved the overall creativity. There were many times where I was speechless due to the wordplay and how it hits you to the core of your soul. Although the chapters were short each left a string of emotions going inside of you.
When considering the character of Death itself, it was great seeing a fresh take on death. Many of us picture a man with a black robe i.e. grim reaper. When, in fact, in this story she is in the form of an old, lonely black woman who appears in the form of a cleaner. Through this Selena highlights that it is women who have constantly been put in the sidelines while the men take the spotlight. Death merely stays in the shadows doing her bidding.
“It is exhausting how much space men want and how much credit and control man wants to take for mankind.”
I, honest to God, felt so bad for the character of Wolf. The death of his mother impacted him so much. His mind had been left fragmented and traumatized. Wolf constantly questions why he didn’t die and whether Mrs Death made a mistake. We later discover he may have bipolar disorder which is making him even more erratic. The decline of Wolf’s mind can be seen through the superbly executed writing.
Wolf and Mrs Death’s relationship soon becomes a key factor for both of them. They end up becoming reliant on each other to make sense of everything that’s happened in their lives and their experiences. It’s left them very disorientated.
Through Death and Wolfe’s conversations, Salena Godden analyses issues such as racism, serial killings, accidents, and the increasing matter of climate change. When discussing death, Salena Godden also discusses her experiences in dealing with real life deaths such as the deaths of refugees in France, school shootings in American schools, and the ongoing civil war in Syria.
“I believe it was you who threw people overboard on the Titanic to swim to lifeboats. I believe you hold dinghies filled with fleeing immigrants afloat on rough seas. I think you give as much as you take.”
Mrs Death also explores current race issues taking homage from the Black Lives Matter moment. I never knew about Sarah Reed who was beat up by a white police officer and left to die under suspicious circumstances in jail.
The events Mrs Death talks about highlight slaves being thrown off slave ships for insurance payouts and Jack the Ripper murdering his first victim at the age of fifteen.
Furthermore, Death explores the issue of climate change and the fact that humanity has, in simple terms, f***** itself sideways and is on the brink of being totally erased due to the damage being done to our environment.
Essentially, throughout the book Death constantly reminds us that life and death are a constant and without death, life wouldn’t exist. As hard as it is to say, our journey one day will inevitably come to an end and no matter how hard we try to prolong life, death is always waiting in the shadows. These momentswere particularly dark and gave me a jolt because of how deep things got.
What I think, however, is that the novel really puts the spotlight on the interconnection between Life, Death, and Time. Death and Life are sisters, Death hates Life for giving life and being the favourite. Time is Death’s soul mate.”Time was my first love. Time felt reliable, solid, like a tree with strong roots that go all the way down to the centre of the heart of the earth and with arms that can go all around the universe. All that Time, it greases the cogs that make the earth spin on its axis.’
At the end of the book Mrs Death reminds Wolf that there is so much shit and nonsense happening in the world and death is increasing at an alarming rate, but there is so much beauty in life and we should grasp every second, minute, hour, and day that we have in this world.
“This is your life, your one precious life, it is your time to walk with Life”
Overall, Mrs Death Misses Death was a superb read and I really hope it wins many literary awards this year. The writing put a spell on me and made me fall deep down into the rabbit hole. The mix of poems, memoirs, and songs was so refreshingly unique to me. Selena Godden highlights many key issues of today and yesterday. It’s a book that will stay in my mind for such a long time and I’ve made sure to put sticky tabs on my favourite quotes. There are so many quotes that I kept reading again and again because of how impactful they were to me. It has left me reflecting on the life I have lived and how I should start seeing the beauty of what’s in front of me. I’m left feeling a rollercoaster of emotions right now.
Thank you very much to Canongate for gifting me a copy. So grateful to have been given the opportunity to review this book