It’s an absolute delight today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach. Published by Tinder Press on 22nd July, this wonderful book is now available in hardcover, as an e-book and an audiobook – the paperback will follow in April 2022. My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading copy (provided via netgalley).
Deborah Moggach is rather cursed these days by always being called “the author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” – but it’s a rather nice curse. The book that inspired the film was actually originally called These Foolish Things, and I do remember reading and enjoying it way before the blog – although I do think my personal favourite from her might still be Tulip Fever. I just couldn’t fit in the reading of her last book, The Carer – and thought it might just be a little too close to home for me at the time of its release (but I think it might now be time to try it). But when I heard about The Black Dress, way before its release, I became mildly obsessed with it – every mention, every article I read about it made me absolutely convinced that it would be a book I’d love.
Here, take a look – see if the description makes you feel the same…
From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Carer, Deborah Moggach’s The Black Dress is a beautifully observed, darkly funny, tender and surprising novel about life changes and the unexpected twists and pleasures of being alone.
Pru is on her own. But then, so are plenty of other people. And while the loneliness can be overwhelming, surely she’ll find a party somewhere?
Pru’s husband has walked out, leaving her alone to contemplate her future. She’s missing not so much him, but the life they once had – picnicking on the beach with small children, laughing together, nestling up like spoons in the cutlery drawer as they sleep. Now there’s just a dip on one side of the bed and no-one to fill it.
In a daze, Pru goes off to a friend’s funeral. Usual old hymns, words of praise and a eulogy but…it doesn’t sound like the friend Pru knew. And it isn’t. She’s gone to the wrong service. Everyone was very welcoming, it was – oddly – a laugh, and more excitement than she’s had for ages. So she buys a little black dress in a charity shop and thinks, now I’m all set, why not go to another? I mean, people don’t want to make a scene at a funeral, do they? No-one will challenge her – and what harm can it do?
Approaching her seventieth birthday, Pru’s comfortable life in Muswell Hill is shaken to its foundations when husband Greg leaves her, wanting to take a “spiritual journey” and moving out to their cottage in Dorset. But she has a strong friendship to support her, the larger-than-life Azra – and then finds she doesn’t, following an extraordinary act of betrayal that leaves her entirely alone. When it’s amply clear that her separation from Greg will be permanent, she stumbles across a way of meeting a suitable new partner – funerals are the perfect opportunity (all those bereaved widowers needing support and consolation), and while her first outing is entirely accidental, the black dress she finds in a charity shop in Deal becomes an important part of her armoury as her future attendances become considerably more calculated and deliberate.
The romantic adventures that follow are an absolute delight – an endorsement of the fact that age is only a barrier when you allow it to be – and some of the scapes she gets into are exceptionally funny, if tinged with embarrassment at times and a mounting horror at her degree of desperation. But the real joy of this book is Pru herself – the clarity of her voice, the confessional and conversational style, keep you firmly in her corner, cheering every small victory and urging her on at every turn. In many ways, she’s an unreliable narrator – but that’s balanced by her openness and honesty, and there was never any point when I found her less than likeable as she changed from the sad figure we met at the start, wallowing in grief and unable to move on, into the adventures that follow.
But there’s far more to this wonderful book than its initial premise – it portrays loneliness with searing accuracy, exposes the human condition and the way appearances can differ from reality, and manages to be immense fun as it does so. The dark humour in the story is totally delicious, there are plenty of touches of poignancy, and it’s filled with well-developed characters who come to figure large in Pru’s life – there are also plenty of surprises along the way, none of which I saw coming. The whole book is extremely contemporary too – it does touch on the growing impact of the pandemic, but in a way that’s wholly appropriate and only enhances the story and the emotional pressure-cooker that’s beginning to develop.
I really adored this book – the writing is quite superb (I’d forgotten how much I enjoy Deborah Moggach’s wit and take on life), the story exceptionally engaging, and Pru herself is magnificent and entirely unforgettable. I do agree with others that more mature readers might find the most to identify with, but I really would recommend it most highly.
Praise for Deborah Moggach…
‘Full of warmth and humour, as well as blistering truths’ Daily Mirror
‘Moggach is at the height of her powers’ Sunday Times
‘Unputdownable, fun and tender with characters that jump off the page. Perfection’ Marian Keyes
About the author
Deborah Moggach, OBE, is a British novelist and an award-winning screenwriter. She has written twenty novels, including Tulip Fever, These Foolish Things (which became the bestselling novel and film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), and The Carer. She lives in London.