WEB OF BELONGING
|| The trouble with reading Stevie Davies's latest
novel is that the woman writes so beautifully, you find yourself
reading very slowly. "Come on, love," says the heroine Jess
as you open the book, "let's saunter. When did we last amble?
We're always on the gallop especially you poor love."
And even though she's talking to her husband handsome,
solid and dependable Jacob, to whom she's been happily married
for 20 years it might well be an exhortation to the
And so you, too, stop galloping. You find yourself sinking
into a chair or maybe even going to bed unusually early to
abandon yourself to a world in peaceful Shrewsbury where Jess,
a pillar of the community, lives in the house where she was
born, together with Jacob's mother May, his aunt Brenda and
uncle Nathan. They came to stay after "the golden interlude"
when she and Jacob had fostered a much-loved child. With selfless
dedication and quiet religious conviction, she's given up
her job as a librarian to care for the oldies.
Fortysomething woman in denial and masochist supreme, Jess
insists she's enjoyed "a more fulfilled life" than anyone
she'd ever known. Too good to be true and as fascinating as
a rainy Sabbath? Well, Jacob thinks so. Tired of sharing his
life with a childless, sexless saint and demanding relatives
whom Jess calls "sweetheart, darling and love", he disappears
on page five.
Slowly and inexorably, Jess's life starts to fall apart. She
now has to question the entire foundations on which her life
has been built, to ponder the question:
man is polygamous"
and to cope with the younger woman in Jacob's
life. She realises, among other things, that she is "a blade,
sheathed". It's hard to build a new life while still tending
to a manipulative, spectacularly selfish chatterbox mother-in-law
who once punched a health visitor on the jaw because she didn't
like her face; or while fretting about dignified Nathan who
thinks he should go into a home. And catering to frail, nervous
Brenda, who spends even longer in the lavatory than May. There
are good friends, even a man who shows interest, and Jess
isn't the type to crack or walk away from those she cares
for. Or is she?
Stevie Davies reveals all in a novel which is tender, perceptive,
almost painful in its honesty and hilariously funny. Its characters
are so marvellously drawn that you want more, more, more.
I started to re-read this book the moment I'd finished it
in case I'd missed a precious line. There are good writers,
there are very good writers. And there is Stevie Davies, who
is in a class of her own.
||Marcelle D'Argy Smith,
|| Webs are exquisite structures, and
in admiring them it is easy to lose sight of the purpose behind
their intricacy. Jessie Copplestone's web of belonging is
a sunlit thing at first glance. She lives in Shrewsbury, by
the banks of the olive-green, sliding, deceptive Severn. Childless
Jessie with her childbearing hips has given up her job to
care for her husband Jacob's aged mother, aunt and cousin.
She nicknames them "the Oldies" and builds for them a life
clotted with endearments. She soothes and fondles, humours
and tolerates, until one day Jacob goes out to the pub and
Bit by bit, Stevie Davies draws a terrifyingly accurate map
of this web of belonging, and of its operations. There has
been an efficient parcelling-up of human beings into victims,
nourishment for the needs of the creator of the web. But do
the hungry Oldies prey upon Jessie, or is Jessie satisfying
her own appetite for dependants? Perhaps Jessie is a woman
whose ideals contort not only her own behaviour but that of
everybody around her.
Over the past ten years Davies has been steadily building
a reputation as a comic novelist of the highest order. Like
Kingsley Amis, she can make the reader shudder with recognition
as her characters embark upon their set pieces of folly and
Jessie's mother-in-law May brags, brawls and maddens everyone
around her to drive off her own terror of encroaching helplessness.
As an exhausted Jessie struggles to help her three charges
upstairs to bed, May hectors her over the pleasures of riding
on the stair-lift. "You see, you can have fun at home: you
don't need to keep gadding and gallivanting off. Go on, treat
yourself." In May, farce unites with an understanding of pain.
Davies exploits her use of a first-person narrative to the
hilt. By making Jessie tell her own story, she allows us to
measure the gap between Jessie's ruthless powers of observation
and her cloying conversational style. This is a woman who
is pretending for dear life to be something which she is not.
As she chirrups her "dears" and "darlings", she meets her
own eyes in the mirror and sees "a blank dread" in her brown
stare. The dread can be slapped down, but it rises again,
and in the end Jessie looks back at it. Coolly, Davies underlines
her point that a welter of busyness offers no immunities.
And later on Jessie may perform time-honoured end-of-marriage
rites such as cutting her hair and buying a pair of dangly
earrings, but The Web of Belonging refuses any
comfortable transformation from domesticity to feistiness.
Like all true comic writers, Davies is at her toughest when
she is most entertaining, and so she slips through barriers
which would otherwise be raised in alarm against her observations.
|| A story about marital breakdown that
lays on emotion with a trowel. Dee-Dee is middle-aged, without
children but essentially maternal in her attitude to her husband,
Jacob, and his three elderly relatives, all of whom share
their home. Suddenly, her world of family, church and provincial
life implodes. Jacob leaves her for a younger woman who is
pregnant; worse, he weasels out of any responsibility and
Dee-Dee has to struggle to retain her own sense of moral values.
Sharply written, the book tackles a number of topical issues
||Mail on Sunday
|| The "web of belonging" of Stevie
Davies's sixth novel has an ambivalent meaning. On the one
hand there are the connotations of comfort, of feeling safe,
and of life as an intricate piece of weaving where an individual
has an affirming part to play in creating the pattern; on
the other, there is the image of the spider's web, trapping
hapless insects in its sticky mesh here "belonging"
sounds potentially life-threatening.
Jess, the novel's heroine, is also ambivalent about
herself, her role in life, and other people; about, in fact,
belonging. When we first encounter her, she appears entirely
sure of herself. She is devoted to her reliable husband, selflessly
cares for his elderly relatives nicknamed "the Oldies", is
busily involved with church activities, and tells herself
she has a blessed life she is the sort of woman likely
to be termed "the salt of the earth" and apparently happy
And then suddenly everything falls apart.
With the falling apart, all that Jessie has lived by comes
into question. Is her selflessness genuine, or does her care
for others actually stem from an urgent need to be needed
and to control? What was really going on in her marriage?
Who is this raging woman hiding behind the saint, and which
character is the "real" Jessie?
Davies has enough understanding of human nature and
of the art of novel-writing to know that these are
the questions to pose but also that they can never be fully
answered. En route to potential, contingent answers
she takes some captivating detours: her descriptions of the
trials of looking after two old ladies one with a troublesome
bladder, the other wildly and exuberantly mad are horrifically
humorous and entirely believable.
Also extremely well handled is the depiction of a collapsed
relationship, with the hourly mood-swings between fury and
despair, and the desire to have the erring partner back at
all costs alternating with the urge to slice him up and fling
the pieces round the room.
Davies spins the threads of love and guilt, joy and grief,
into a complex and readable web.
|| Church Times
|| Let's be honest. There can't be that
many books that we would heartily recommend to a whole range
of our friends both male and female, young
and old, Guardian readers and fans
of Brookside because, let's face it, we all have our
own personal tastes. One man's meat is another man's poison,
as they say.
But "The Web of Belonging" by... Stevie Davies is a novel
that is so beautifully written and so full of universal truths
that I have so far not missed an opportunity to rave about
it to all and sundry. So much so that I now have a queue lining
up to borrow my copy. And the book seems to generate a good
deal of interest whenever I start enthusing about it.
So what's so great about it? Well, it's certainly a poignant
tale, it's also very funny and it's also illuminating when
it comes to what artists are prone to call "the human condition"...
"The Web of Belonging" centres around Jess who has lived peaceably
with her husband, Jacob, for many years contented to
be his wife and care for his elderly relatives. Then, suddenly,
everything changes. Jacob pops out one evening for a drink
down at The Crown ... But he doesn't come back.
In fact, Jacob has left Jess in favour of a well, frankly,
a sexier woman. This lady has children (Jacob has always wanted
children) and they live a very different kind of life... Now
poor rejected Jess must question the entire basis on which
she has lived so many years of her life. She must discover
whether the identity she has created has really been valuable
to herself and to those around her, and whether there is a
different angry, passionate, fulfillable Jess
waiting to get out... This is an astute and tender book...
|This entire presentation Copyright