This book is one of my favourite reads this year. It’s one of those novels which you can’t help but keep turning the pages, not because there is much of a plot, but because the writing style is addictive. Even more remarkably for a modern classic, it was a debut novel, which first began as a short story.
Composed of very short chapters, Mrs Bridge follows the life of an upper middle class woman in Kansas City, Missouri. She is defined by her role as wife and mother. Her husband is at his office most of the time. Her life revolves around domestic issues and a variety of social occasions. Although Mrs Bridge (first name India but rarely used in the book) is obsessed with manners and is somewhat prejudiced, you can’t help but admire her resolve. She never deliberately hurts anyone. She wants what is best for her children, even though they don’t appreciate her meddling in their lives. She’s one of those people who always find something positive to say in dire circumstances. She takes the conveniences of her comfortable life for granted. Of course, these characteristics prove to be her undoing.
The novel is a critique of women’s roles in 1950s America (although it’s worth noting that the story actually takes place in the 1930s). It’s also quite funny, sometimes in a bleak way. Joshua Ferris in his Afterword describes it as an ‘existential nightmare’, which I agree with. There are moments when Mrs Bridge is on the verge of a dreadful panic, because she doesn’t know what she should be doing, or she has the sense of time passing, or she realises how everything will soon be gone. Whether or not you can relate to Mrs Bridge’s situation in life, there are elements of this book which are part of our universal experience.
Thank you to my mum for recommending the book and posting it to me.
First published in 1959. This edition published by Penguin Modern Classics in 2019.