Posted on May 4, 2016
Roxy by Esther Gerritsen
When Roxy opens the door to the police her first thoughts are about her husband Arthur. She wonders if he has died of a heart attack as he ‘has all the risk factors’. She discovers Arthur is indeed dead but that he died in a car accident alongside his young female intern. Both were naked.
Roxy and Arthur were married for ten years and have a three year old daughter, Louise. Roxy met Arthur, a film producer who is thirty years older, when she was seventeen. During the weeks following Arthur’s death Roxy does not grieve like a normal widow and has strange relationships with the people around her. On hearing the news, her parents come to stay and Arthur’s assistant, Jane and the babysitter, Liza are there to help Roxy through this difficult period.
Right from the beginning we get a hint of Roxy’s complex personality when we discover that ‘she doesn’t like having strangers in the house’ and that ‘it’s rare anyone stays an hour.’ Although she’s averse to having strangers in the house she wants the police to stay a little longer. She thinks ‘they could be friends’ and plays out a scenario in her mind where she tells people they first met when they came to tell her that Arthur was dead.
At the beginning, some of Roxy’s statements appear odd and sometimes amusing but as the novel progresses they become uncomfortable. She laughs inappropriately, as a child might, when Jane is telling a friend of Arthur’s death and when the policewoman tells Roxy that her husband and the intern were naked Roxy asks: ‘Was his penis still attached? Or is it inside her? Would that be possible?’ Her social ineptitude causes those around her some concern with Jane finally telling her that ‘Arthur said you were disturbed but I didn’t know it was this bad.’
It becomes clear that over the years Roxy has been married to Arthur she has withdrawn into her own world and that she feels most comfortable when she is some distance from any given situation. Although there is no explicit suggestion of an abusive childhood there is evidence she grew up in a dysfunctional family. Her father, a trucker, had long absences from home and she would eat her dinner most nights in bed with her mother watching Countdown.
When three year old Louise wants to go on holiday, Roxy jumps at the chance and invites Jane and Liza to accompany them. They go to France. While they are away Roxy tries her hardest to please Jane and LIza as she desperately wishes to be liked but at the first sign of offence she considers them to be the enemy. The tension builds as we see Roxy becoming more distressed and less able to cope until it reaches a climax which, even given her unpredictable nature throughout the novel, still shocks.
It is an honest novel about a young woman with mental health issues who, at times, appears almost psychopathic. It portrays her unconventional relationship with reality with credibility. Although Roxy often behaves irresponsibly, especially towards her young daughter, it is easy to feel compassion and empathy for her as we get further inside her world. Her mental instability makes her vulnerable and it is difficult to feel too much anger towards her bizarre behaviour.
It is a well written book with every sentence carrying meaning and Esther Gerritsen gives insight, through Roxy, into the complexities that accompany mental health issues. An enjoyable read.
Roxy is published by World Editions Ltd and translated by Michele Hutchison
Thank you to Diana Morgan at Ruth Killick Publicity for the review copy.