The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis


My latest read was one of the books chosen by my book club, and one that I was really looking forward to reading. I had heard great things about The Other Mrs Walker, and was intrigued by its premise. It concerns those people who pass away alone who may not leave people behind, but do leave behind a whole life, and plenty of secrets…

‘And somehow shed always known that she would end up like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name.

What was that name? Lost, along with everything else she’d ever owned’

Events begin in Edinburgh in 2010, where on a cold Christmas night an elderly lady passes away alone in her flat, leaving behind a whole world of secrets, some of which are the stories behind the objects which she leaves behind, everyday objects which hold significance. The New Year sees the arrival of Margaret Penny, a middle aged woman who has a complicated past and an uncertain future. But as she tries to make a fresh start in a place she thought she’d left behind, she finds employment in a job where the past is very much brought back into the present. Her job is based at the Office for Lost People, and Margaret embarks on her journey to track down the families of those who have died alone. But as she begins to piece together the life of an elderly lady, she begins to realise that her own life has become entangled with that of a stranger. From the start my interest was piqued as there were so many questions to be answered. Who was the lady in the cold Edinburgh flat? And what will Margaret unearth about this lost family, and herself?

“Everyone leaves something behind, if you only know where to look.”

This novel is split into different parts, each featuring a particular object and beginning with a document of some sort – an article or a record significant to the family history. Each of these parts switches back and forth through time, and as Margaret searchs for the answers in 2011 Edinburgh the reader gets to glimpse the events significant to the family over the years. I always enjoy books which switch between different points in time which help to build up a picture of an entire life and this is no exception. There was a lot to be discovered about this stranger and her long lost family and their lives were far from easy. Over the course of this novel we uncover a complicated family history and some difficult subject matter. We see what happens to a family hit by loss and grief, and who is on hand to help pick up the pieces. There were various twists and turns along the way, and some ambiguity over the identity of the elderly lady with the emerald dress. As I picked up more details I changed my mind about how things would develop, so the story kept my interest until its conclusion. I also liked the use of symbols throughout the story, the significance of small items and the part they play in the characters history. These symbols were repeated fairly regularly, but I liked discovering them and seeing how they appear through the story, and how these objects from the past hold significance for those in the present day.

‘This was a place where life and death huddled together. She couldn’t be certain what she might find.’

I really enjoyed reading The Other Mrs Walker and found it to be a gripping and fascinating story about family secrets and relationships and how the past and present can be intertwined. It is a story which shows how curiosity and a journey into the past can not only uncover the secrets of another life, but also uncover something about ourselves.

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