Book Review | Bed by David Whitehouse

Bed by David Whitehouse

Every family has a story. Mal was ours.

Malcolm Ede weighs 100 stone. He hasn’t left his bed for 20 years. In Bed, his younger brother tries to tell us why.

Mal has always been a bit different, his adoring younger brother describes him as extraordinary. He spends his childhood and adolescence standing apart from society. Mal felt constrained within societal norms, often shedding his clothes in public to rebel and escape and ultimately, to be removed from the situation, much to chagrin of his family. When Mal finds himself finally “conforming” – holding down a job, living with a girlfriend, planning a family – he dramatically switches gear to zero. He goes home, strips off his clothes, climbs into bed, and never gets up. Years of Mal’s outbursts have made him the nucleus of their family. They mould themselves around him, so as he begins to grow and grow in size, they simply make more space for him.

Bed is about a family’s identity being swallowed up by one person and the narrative he has created for himself. Before he goes to bed for the final time, he ponders “Maybe my purpose is to give purpose to others”. The most painful thing about the novel is hearing the family, and particularly his brother, the narrator buy into this. I say the narrator because, as much as he laments being known as “Malcolm Ede’s brother”, he never corrects them, nor tells us his name. He is Malcolm Ede’s brother. The emotional dependence they all have on Mal is as full as his physical dependence on them becomes. Mal’s mother become a shell of her former self, she has always played the caring, nurturing nurse but she is transformed into a veritable slave. Mal’s father recedes into the attic, obsessing over past failures, the monolith of Mal between him and his wife. Mal’s girlfriend, Lou, puts her own happiness second to making other people happy – Mal’s relationship with his mother reflected and reversed onto Lou and her own father. And Mal’s brother. 40, living at home, still sharing a room with his older brother, miserable. He is subconsciously waiting for Mal to give him permission to start living his own life, but how will he do this – by getting out of bed? By dying?

Bed is a tender meditation on the prison of unconditional love taken to the extreme. Wonderfully written with vivid descriptions and seamlessly moving between the past and present it evokes a real sense of understanding of the strained family dynamics. Despite the heavy subject (figuratively as well as literally), the writing is peppered with quips and amusing observations from Mal’s brother which lifts it into being an enjoyable read while retaining it’s sincerity. He is all too aware of the situation and finds himself with a morbid sense of humour over it. He knows that it is impossible to fully understand why Mal has made the decision to stay in bed for most of his life but that there can be flashes of understanding or at least empathy.

I would highly rate Bed as an emotionally affirming book that explores the correlation of love and dependence with a touch of black humour.

I rated this 4 stars on GoodReads. Follow me here to follow my reading challenge (currently on 9/20 books) and send me book recommendations.

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