The Other Mrs Walker, published by Mary Paulson-Ellis in 2016, is subtitled “A detective story with no detective”. That’s not accurate. To the extent that it’s a detective story, it has a detective. What struck me most about this novel is that it’s all about women. Hardly any space is given to male characters and except for one who is barely more than a shadow, none of them are nice. Come to think of it, the women are no models of virtue either, but we can empathize with them to some extent because we get to know them better.
The main characters are three sisters who grow up in World War II era London. The book skips back and forth between the harsh circumstances of their childhood and their present day lives (and one death) as old ladies. The tragic elements of the girls’ early years, and in fact the unhappy circumstances of nearly all of the story’s women, are described in a pseudo magical – realistic style that conveys the basic facts without wallowing in depression. I say “pseudo” because there isn’t any magic. What Paulson-Ellis does is use beautiful similes for gruesome objects (and vice versa), which creates an atmosphere of strangeness, make repetitive use of a few old fashioned phrases like “over the hills and far away”, that could have come from a fairy tale, and provide several everyday artifacts (like a broken ceramic cherub) that appear and reappear in the course of many years, giving them a near magical significance.
The most powerful objects that appear over and over, associated with every major occurrence in the story, are oranges. The simplest explanation of the importance of oranges in this story may be the best one. Paulson-Ellis lives in Edinburgh.