Gavin McCrea || Mrs Engels

The first sentence of Mrs Engels made me stand on edge: Lizzie Burns aka Mrs Engels was presented sharply as a sassy feisty woman. And then the novel collapses. I was hoping to get better acquainted with this sassy lady and she never returned. In her place I was given a rather levelheaded and sometimes petulant person, which I cannot really blame her for. Lizzie has a double portion of bad luck: the man she sleeps with for the first time gives her a serious case of venereal disease, which is taken care of in het hospital by removing her womb, a rather permanent cure on a 20-year old. Lizzie’s sister has moved into a house payed for by her lover, factory owner and also communist Friedrich Engels; Lizzie is allowed to move in with her sister allowing her to quit her job in the factory owned by Friedrich. When her sister dies of a combination of heartbreak (Friedrich has had a child with another woman) and too many miscarriages, Friedrich and Lizzie rather pragmatically decide that she can take over her sister’s role. Leaving Lizzie to feel inferior to her much beloved sister for the rest of her life. Only when she is on the of verge of dying herself does it become clear that Friedrich actually loves her. In the meantime they have shared a house and the Marx family for some thirty years, a relationship Lizzie does not really seem to grasp. She cannot comprehend why Friedrich is almost submissive in his relationship with the great Karl Marx and is annoyed continually by Mrs Marx. a noble woman who married for love not for money who takes it for granted that Friedrich spends his fortune on the cause, meaning the family Marx. As the years go by Lizzie feels less and less comfortable in this environment of poor thought well-read revolutionaries.  Since Lizzie tells the story from her point of view, we are presented with her side of the story and her insecurities. I suspect CrCrea tried to present us with a balanced picture of Lizzie Burns, I fear he did not succeed. I do not doubt that there are (many) woman who appear to be self-assured who turn out to be deeply insecure (not even deep down). McCrea however does not manage to combine who Lizzie actually is and how other people look at her. On the one hand she is this woman who has lived in sin with a man for many years, on the other hand she escapes reality through drink and an old love. It does not bide well, causing me to lose interest in Lizzie. Neither Lizzie Burns nor Mrs Engels turn out to be entirely convincing.



About booksandliliane

I am an avid reader and love to share my love for literature. I have my own opinion on books that have been shortlisted, laureated by critics or are pushed on us by bookstores. I will try and explain why I like or do not like a book. Hopefully influencing you in your choice of books to read.
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