June 26, 2012 by Vicki
Constance Beresford-Howe’s The Book of Eve describes the adventures of an over 65 year old female who has just started to live. I absolutely adore this book but I have to admit that I also found it a little disturbing. Through the course of the novel, the main character, Eva, learns to let go of most of the social requirements that she had grown up under. I believe that we still function under some of the restriction which Eva fought so hard to free herself from.
At 65 years of age, Eva leaves her husband of forty years to begin a new life far from the middle class urbanity she had grown to hate. They had not argued. She had just had enough. The rest of the novel deals with her learning how to live her own life. She has to fight against her family’s best intentions and society’s assumption surrounding older females. An older female must be suffering from a breakdown in order for her to leave her comfortable home. She must be ill to leave behind her family and friends. Eva ignores her family’s concerns and society’s restriction because she has to start living her own life.
Through the course of the novel, Eva recognizes the truth behind the masks that she had been living. At the beginning of the story, Eva describes her husband as “blameless” (7) and is shocked at her own lack of guilt for leaving him. We learn, as the story progresses, that her husband had raped her. I don’t think anyone who rapes someone can be described as blameless. Eva had forced herself to believe certain myths about her own life. Only when she is finally alone is she able to admit the truth of her own history.
How many of us lie to ourselves about our own lives? We ignore our own bleeding wounds to look after and protect our family. It’s what we were taught we should do. I have watched so many women struggle to place themselves on their own priority list. Somehow, everyone else always comes first. How can we comfort and care for our family when we do not care for ourselves?
I found the ripple effect of this mindset the most disturbing part of this book. Eva sacrificed herself for a loveless marriage. Her son, Neil, always lived between two parents who did not love each other and who fought against each other continually. He learned to always be the peacemaker. Consequently, he learned to care for others before himself. The cycle continues – until someone pulls on the brakes. Neil tells Eva that he respects her more now then he ever did before. The light bulb has turned on and I suspect there could be a sequel entitled “The Book of Neil.” In our attempts to provide the very best for our families; we accidentally damage the ones we love the most.
Constance Beresford-Howe’s novel The Book of Eve successfully reveals the damage wrought by middle class morality. I couldn’t help but love Eva as she navigates completely new situations. I also couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Eva and the older women in my family; both those who successfully fought and won their independence and those who lost. I would recommend The Book of Eve to anyone who finds themselves stifled by societal regulations.