Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls - review by Jay Gilbert

Jay Gilbert

The Housewife & the Frog

Mrs Caliban


Faber & Faber 128pp £8.99

Rachel Ingalls – whose 1982 novella Mrs Caliban has now been reissued by Faber – was primarily a writer of short stories, and it shows in the precisely chosen language of this subversive, superlatively weird fairy tale. Ingalls has a canny eye for detail: the novella opens with the protagonist, Dorothy, and her faithless husband, Fred, enacting a devastating ritual around the question of whether or not he should take an umbrella to ‘work’ (or rather, as Dorothy well knows, to meet his latest mistress). Dorothy’s life is one of gym routines in the junk room and being accosted in supermarkets by sales girls offering samples of cheese. It’s because of Ingalls’s unerring ability to capture the absurdity of the mundane that the sudden appearance of a ‘six-foot-seven-inch frog-like creature’ in Dorothy’s kitchen seems absolutely unremarkable. The frog-man introduces himself as Larry, and he and Dorothy abruptly make love in the spare room.

Mrs Caliban is the bizarrely compelling story of a suburban housewife who has lost two children and can’t quite lose her husband. Why shouldn’t she, then, take up with a green-skinned, webbed-footed avocado fiend who enjoys doing the housework? Funny, feminist and unexpectedly affecting, these are a hundred pages

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