The Books That Built Me Reading Group: Mrs Bridge, Evan S Connell

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I’m delighted to have teamed up with Waterstones High Street Kensington to create a The Books That Built Me reading group.

On Wednesday 17th August 6.30pm, we’ll be talking about one of Lionel Shriver’s favourite books: Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell. I hadn’t heard of Mrs Bridge before Lionel sent me her book choices, but it’s a captivating, original read that stays with you long after you’ve closed the final page.

“Her first name was India. She was never able to get used to it.”

So begins Mrs Bridge, a novel in which nothing and yet everything happens. First published in 1959, Connell’s hugely successful novel tells the story of an unremarkable upper middle-class housewife in Kansas City between the first and second world wars. Mrs Bridge has three children, a comfortable home, a kindly – if distant – lawyer husband and spends her time shopping, going to bridge parties and bringing her children up to have nice manners. She has expensive hand towels which she puts out when visitors come but secretly hopes they won’t use, and she has never met a socialist. Her world is delightfully and sensitively observed: Mrs Bridge has everything a woman of her class and time could wish for, yet we sense the quiet tragedy of a life that’s not quite fulfilled.

Chosen by Lionel Shriver as one of the books that built her as a writer, Shriver admires Connell’s modesty, his determination to take himself out of his work, so that the reader can ‘see through the novel straight to the character. That kind of clear-sightedness, that not getting in the way, of not saying ‘look at me, isn’t that a great sentence’, I really admire that.’

Copies of Mrs Bridge are easily available at Waterstones High Street Kensington (and other Waterstones). The latest edition is published by Vintage and has an excellent introduction.

TIME TO READ:  Mrs Bridge is a rewarding read and one of those rare books that’s easy to pick up and read in short bursts – on the tube or at bedtime, for example. It’s written in 117 vignettes, each of which is a complete story in itself (it’s a bit like a blog in that respect) and I finished it in a weekend. I am rather a fast reader, but even read at a much steadier pace, I don’t think it’ll take more than a fortnight of dipping in and out.

If you’d like to chat about Mrs Bridge in the run up to the reading group, please post on the facebook page in the comments under this post.

This is a free event, but please email me on mrstrefusis@gmail.com to let me know you are coming so that I make sure there is enough wine for all.

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