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The Hoarder's Widow

Front cover of the book The Hoarder's Widow

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Suddenly-widowed Maisie sets out to clear her late husband’s collection; wonky furniture and balding rugs, bolts of material for upholstery projects he never got round to, gloomy pictures and outmoded electronics, other people’s trash brought home from car boot sales and rescued from the tip. The hoard is endless, stacked into every room in the house, teetering in piles along the landing and forming a scree up the stairs. It is all part of Clifford’s waste-not way of thinking in which everything, no matter how broken or obscure, can be re-cycled or re-purposed into something useful or, if kept long enough, will one day be valuable. He had believed in his vision as ardently as any mystic in his holy revelation but now, without the clear projection of his vision to light it up for her as what it would be, it appears to Maisie more grimly than ever as what it is: junk. 

As Maisie disassembles his stash she is forced to confront the issues which drove her husband to squirrel away other people’s rubbish; after all, she knows virtually nothing about his life before they met. Finally, in the last bastion of his accumulation, she discovers the key to his hoarding and understands–much too late–the man she married. 

Then, with empty rooms in a house which is too big for her, she must ask herself: what next?


She has begun to feel, over the past few weeks, an increasing sense of utter hopelessness which for a woman who has managed to remain positive and ebullient in the face even of Clifford’s mania, has been an alarming development.  In response she has redoubled her efforts, getting up earlier and working until later into the evening. Her stolid determination has metamorphosed into a kind of desperation, at times rabid and all-consuming. She has found herself, sometimes, heaving furniture and almost hurling boxes with an air of hectic urgency and heedless of her personal safety, taking risks, scaling unstable stacks, delving frantically beneath unsteady piles, as though some injured person or a forgotten hostage lies trapped beneath, dependent solely on her efforts for release. This sense—non-specific but quite tangible—of rescue, of saving something or someone, has become a driving force. But as often as she might pack up the car and trundle off to the tip, as frequent as her visits to charity shops have been, still the hoard has shown no signs of shrinking. Every day she goes to bed with a feeling of having failed, of not having grasped the wasted hand which lies somewhere beneath the ruins, of not having heard the parched dry voice which calls from below the surface.

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