Jumping the Queue is a must-read for fans of Mary Wesley’s writing. It is a slim volume about a deadly serious topic. Widow Matilda Poliport prepares to commit suicide. She cleans the house, organises her papers, destroys anything incriminating and gives away her pets. On the day she judges the tide to be favourable, she makes a picnic and takes a bottle of wine to the beach. She plans to wade into the sea and drown. What happens changes the course of Matilda’s death, and life.
This is a quirky mixture of a book with heavy topics which, as you get older, become more familiar and understandable, with dark humour and a touch of forbidden romance. There is also betrayal, all kinds of betrayal actually – between husband and wife, between parents and children, between friends. As Matilda contemplates suicide, she thinks, ‘I am the great betrayer… That is my sin. I am not a sticker. I betray from laziness, fear and lack of interest.’
The story is told from Matilda’s point of view, at times despairing, at times wickedly funny and lusty. It’s hard to believe Jumping the Queue was Mary Wesley’s first adult novel, published in 1983 when she was seventy; its topics are as pertinent today, as then.
Matilda and her husband Tom made a pact, to end it all when they were old and no longer enjoying life. But when Tom dies suddenly in Paris, Matilda is left alone in an isolated West Country house, rarely visited by her four children. The villagers pretty much leave her alone except for her neighbour Mr Jones, who carries a not-so-secret torch for Matilda. But not everything is as it seems. What was Tom really doing in Paris, why don’t the children visit, and does Mr Jones really see UFOs?
When Matilda’s plan at the beach is interrupted by a group of holidaymakers, she retreats to the town to wait. There she meets The Matricide, a man on-the-run, wanted for killing his mother and whose face is in all the newspapers. Matilda is anything but conventional and she doesn’t fear for her safety. The Matricide, whose name is Hugh Warner, checks she understands who he is and that he killed his mother. ‘Of course’, says Matilda. ‘Lots of people long to. You just did it.’
At first glance, this could be a depressing novel about getting older and longing to be out of it. But in fact it is a tale of loyalty, love and trust; just in unexpected places. Thought provoking, sad and uplifting, all at the same
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