“…even small delays can lead to the greatest calamities.”
The author is so intent on insisting that having mussels that evening was neither a sign or a coincidence that you can’t help thinking straight from the beginning of the story that it is just that. And the sense of foreboding grows until it is almost palatable: the mother’s red, chafed hands; the scraping, scrubbing, and rinsing while bent over a bathtub; the way the children weren’t to help in case they would be blamed for the unbearable crunch of sand should it grind between their father’s teeth.
“Once, in the past, our family unity was endangered when Mum forgot the salt on holiday.” I can see, just by reading that sentence, how the least little error can upset a family when the father is prone to an arbitrary fury.
“Playing piano and reading books won’t get an engine started, my father pointed out…” Of course, only he, the engineer, is the smart one; only he knows the value of an entire stamp collection the family can ill afford which is to ensure the children’s future, even though the packets of stamps accumulate unopened in the wall unit which also houses the alcohol.
Of course, these are just little things, even though they do give an indication of the horror it would be to live under such a violent and cruel man whose anger one could never anticipate.
The mother likes beauty, harmony and balance, none of which she gets but all of which she strives for. It’s as though if she sacrifices herself enough, surely her husband will be appeased. But no, the jumpers and dresses she buys on sale because he has spent their money on made-to-measure suits, or exorbitant tips at expensive restaurants, are perceived by him as rejects. She embarrasses him when asked at a company dinner if she’d like a dry martini, and she says she’s only known them to be wet.
When she sits to play Schubert, she cries.
I awaited the ending of the book with a terrible apprehension. Surely something horrific must happen to such a horrid man. But no, as the mussels repel the family members waiting for their husband and father to come home for dinner after a certain promotion, a change overtakes the mother. Her conciliatory manner, which she thought served the family well, has disappeared. It had been replaced right before she found the strength to throw the four kilos of vile mussels away.
They have waited long enough.
Find a review from Parrish Lantern here.