Book #58

Mrs March by Virginia Feito

George March’s latest novel is a smash hit. None could be prouder than Mrs. March, his dutiful wife, who revels in his accolades and relishes the lifestyle and status his success brings.

A creature of routine and decorum, Mrs. March lives an exquisitely controlled existence on the Upper East Side. Every morning begins the same way, with a visit to her favourite patisserie to buy a loaf of olive bread, but her latest trip proves to be her last when she suffers an indignity from which she may never recover: an assumption by the shopkeeper that the protagonist in George March’s new book – a pathetic sex worker, more a figure of derision than desire – is based on Mrs. March.

This novel creates terror just by suggesting what our mind is capable of. Overthinking and coming to farfetched, incorrect conclusions, is something most of us are guilty of. For Mrs March, this affliction evolves into something consuming, propelling this prim, socially-conscious woman into acts of solid treachery.

I had gone into this expecting historical fiction, however it was incredibly difficult to pinpoint a decade. Mentions of dishwashers and other modern items confused me, whilst Mrs March’s socialite status and fixation felt older than a microwave would suggest. I’m still pondering this, but also enjoying the sensation of the indefinite time period.

Feito refers to our protagonist as Mrs March throughout the pages, with no mention of her first name, which creates a feeling of separation. She’s a flawed, unlikable character, and it’s difficult to support her decisions and actions. Obsessed with reputation and aesthetic, she uses her life simply to impress others, and garner their respect and admiration. She believes people are laughing at her, judging her, and continues her interminable quest to gain the approval of New York.

Initially, Mrs March’s whims and odd behaviour can be easily understood as those of a woman who, rightly or wrongly, is desperate for admiration and awe. It soon becomes clear these actions could be attributed to a mental illness, something causing hallucinations and wild assumptions. My original feelings of distaste for this woman quite quickly turned to pity and heartbreak. She’s incredibly misunderstood, in need of help with no friends to give it to her. Feito’s slow burn approach of changing our minds on this character is wonderful; the realisation hits like a bus, and when we discover what we’re dealing with it’s far, far too late.

And the finale is quite simply a chef’s kiss. This isn’t the type of book which would benefit from a clear, well-explained ending, and Feito doesn’t give this to us. Mrs March remains the equivocal, unresolved character we first encountered, and the culmination of our time with her bears those same qualities.

Unsettling, dubious, and with a subtle tone of voyeurism, this is a stunning, disturbing and compelling debut. I truly hope Feito blesses us with another of her creations in future.