January 2014

Celia Fremlin - The Trouble-Makers

"...a dark, twisted tale that ends with a chilling denouement worthy of Rendell herself."

Katharine is married with children and is supposed to be living the dream. But the domestic landscape is anything but bliss. Katharine has many worries about her abilities to look after the home with ease whilst being a wife and mother at the same time. And then there are outside influences, too.

Mary is Katharine's next door neighbour and someone who is coping even less well than all the other mothers. Her home is a mess and her children run wild and the constant 'advice' from her neighbours seems to be having an adverse effect on her rather than a positive one. And then there is 'the dark man in the raincoat' who attacks Mary's husband, Alan. Soon, Mary believes she is being followed. Is it by the man in the raincoat? Katharine tries to help Mary but begins to feel herself pulled in to the storm and soon she is standing at the epicentre of a maelstrom that will have devastating consequences for everyone involved.

To my mind this is Fremlin's strongest and most claustrophobic pieces of writing she ever produced. When Fremlin was firing on all cylinders she could produce such striking prose that reverberates through your emotional core. Hers were words that deeply penetrated the soul and languished in your conscience for many days, if not weeks later.

'The Trouble-Makers' was first published in 1963 and Fremlin's fourth novel. This being 'Fremlin-land' nothing can be simply defined as 'light and shade'. Fremlin delivers a cast of characters who exist on the edge of poverty, and yet they are under pressure from themselves, as well as others, to perform to the high standards demanded of them from outsiders who are quick to judge. What is it they are judging, you may ask? The art of juggling a job, motherhood, marriage, a home, cooking, cleaning, the list is endless where Fremlin is concerned. As with most of her novels, Fremlin's cast is predominantly female and the battleground is the home, the prize: who is top of the pecking order.

According to Fremlin's daughter this book had deep roots with the author and you can tell by the deep cuts Fremlin makes with her pen, that there is nothing to be ashamed of by not achieving the status of being the 'ultimate woman'. Here, with a dark psychological twist, Fremlin takes a swipe with her razor sharp pen at the class system amongst women within the homestead. This is my favourite of Fremlin's novels and is such a dark, twisted tale that ends with a chilling denouement worthy of Rendell herself. Sublime.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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