If you like unpredictable storylines with twist after twist try The Black Dress, the latest by Deborah Moggach. Like her last, The Carer, it is much darker and less humorous than the publisher’s blurb suggests. It is difficult to pin down to a genre owing to the numerous twists, it is part-crime, part-family drama, part-romance, part-humorous though I’d didn’t find it to be a laugh-out-loud story. Pru is 69 when her husband walks out; shedding his wife and his possessions, he goes to a silent retreat in Rutland. Pru’s friend Azra says she should’ve fought to get him back. But as Pru remembers the last few years with Greg she starts to question the veracity of her memories and wonders what he’d really been thinking. Feeling alone, son Max lives in Canada and daughter Lucy in Iceland, Pru stays on in the family home in Muswell Hill, surrounded by smug couples leading exactly the sort of life she used to enjoy. Only Pam who lives opposite, nastily nicknamed Pritt-Stick-Pam by Pru and Greg as they mock what they see as Pam’s neediness, sees Pru is struggling and tries to help. As Greg moves to their cottage in Dorset and they agree a clean break, Pru spends more time with Azra, depending on her confident ballsy outlook on life. And then Pru gets the biggest shock [so far] of her life.
The black dress of the title introduces the next phase of the story. When Pru sees the dress, so not her, in the window of a charity shop she buys it and starts attending the funerals of strangers. What follows is a string of assignations until one day she meets Calvin in the dentist’s waiting room. Pru falls in love. To avoid plot spoilers I will simply say that nothing is what it seems in this story.
The Black Dress is about loneliness and friendship, exploitation and manipulation, the danger of not appreciating what you have and how lack of self-awareness and self-honesty will catch up with you in the end. Some of the plot twists made me gasp and want to read on, others seemed misplaced and unrealistic – because, although this is fiction, we still need it to be rooted in the real world. One word of warning in case, like me, you read fiction to escape the real world, part of the story takes place during Covid-19 lockdown.
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