Malc hurls pathetic insults and has a simmering hatred for Ellie. There are various dated pop culture references like a mention of Giant Haystacks and a TV aerial, people talk about fancying Dudley Moore and insult the Common Market. Malc hurls more sneering remarks and Ellie plans to get him a job to restore his self respect. She feels he has a moral case to whine about urban exclusion and a better job will make him the man he once was. Because people apparently can’t afford double glazing, Malc becomes a top shutters salesman. As for Ellie? She stagnates, chain-smokes and plans to get a perm.
Ellie’s plan is a resounding success with bitter consequences. Malc leaves Ellie for a fancy woman, so she finally stops being a pathetic doormat. Malc has no social niceties but has disfavour for Ellie and every last ounce of energy and joy is sapped of Ellie who is scrutinised and judged by her husband. Just as she did for so long to him. Underlying tensions build as she plans to win him back. Her obsession with Malc and his homeopathic level of character baffles. Ellie is ecologically invisible and given to bizarre sentimental swellings about the horrible Malc. She is oblivious to how she is out of step with wider opinion. As Ellie’s resentment festers, she plots vengeance in a valedictory mood.
White is a writer unjustly less known than Ruth Rendell. Ellie stops being unconfident but is still critically dependant on her horrible husband. She has a capacity for vengefulness and a profound self-hatred. She will not see that love has long faded from Malc’s mind and when wild passion is ignited, it is not for her. Malc’s bleak perception of her stamps on her memory of their love like big muddy boots of reality. But Ellie isn’t the only one playing people for horrid effect. No-one is intuitive, emotional, warm or has a grasp of social behaviour. There is mutual betrayal and psychodrama.
“Could be so irredeemably unpleasant throughout their entire life.”
“Eyes the colour of pale pain.”
“Caught screwing Malc in the central heating shed.”
“A look of such total despair.”
“It was whispered that he took women’s underwear off lines.”
“Like long-distance coach hostesses.”
“This scheming termagant who had taken her husband.”
“You have no ambition, none whatsoever.”
“The parade of sordid louts who line up outside the door.”
“The dogs, and two of the most extreme children have been excluded from the photos.”
“If you were intending to leave a humorous prank message on our answering machine, know this: we will find you.”
“If she were bored more completely than anyone had ever been bored.”