Review: Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden (2021)


Mrs Death has had enough. She is exhausted from spending eternity doing her job and now she seeks someone to unburden her conscience to. Wolf Willeford, a troubled young writer, is well acquainted with death, but until now hadn’t met Death in person – a black, working-class woman who shape-shifts and does her work unseen.

Enthralled by her stories, Wolf becomes Mrs Death’s scribe, and begins to write her memoirs. Using their desk as a vessel and conduit, Wolf travels across time and place with Mrs Death to witness deaths of past and present and discuss what the future holds for humanity. As the two reflect on the losses they have experienced – or, in the case of Mrs Death, facilitated – their friendship grows into a surprising affirmation of hope, resilience and love. All the while, despite her world-weariness, Death must continue to hold humans’ fates in her hands, appearing in our lives when we least expect her . . .


I decided to kick off May by doing something I rarely have time to do – reading a book I’ve bought for myself! I love book blogging, and have been absolutely delighted to receive so many wonderful proofs to review (when I took my blog ‘public’ last year, I had no idea such magical things as ARCs even existed!) but it is nice sometimes to just mood read and pick up a book I’ve chosen for myself. It is definitely something I want to do more of. I’d seen so many people I admire shouting about this book, I knew I’d love it. And indeed I did!

Mrs Death Misses Death is a very special book. As Wolf states in the Disclaimer: “This book is a matter of Life and Death,” and indeed, it seems to cover so much ground over its pages, through prose and poetry, that it really does seem to contain something essential. I came to the end of this book feeling wiser, more thoughtful, and grateful for the space this book gave me to reflect on those I have lost. This is a generous book, big-hearted and full of kindness. In places rude, funny, raw, beautiful, it contains within it the whole mess of being human, of living and dying, and trying to hold those experiences in language as best we can.

I think this is a book you need to be in the right mood for – you need to approach it in an open-hearted, open-minded way. It doesn’t pander to conventions, or to narrative expectations – this is a new kind of book, a new kind of reading experience, one that elevates your thinking and fills up your soul. Godden’s skill with language is dizzying – she pushes it into new shapes, breathes new life into old words, makes songs of trivia and ephemera and turns curses into words of love. It is exciting just to be in the presence of such linguistic gymnastics – to watch the story push forward the boundaries of what narrative is capable of is an incredible thing to behold.

It is hard to adequately capture my feelings about this novel in a few paragraphs – this book will mean different things to different people, there is space in between the lines for us all to inhabit this book (just as there is, literally, space at the end for our own annotations). This is a book which shows how an individual imagination can work for the collective good, and it’s a beautiful achievement. Read this book, make room for it, and let it make room for you.

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden is published by Canongate and is available to purchase here in the lovely cream indie bookshop edition (my choice!), or here in beautiful black.


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