Alex Peake-Tomkinson

Funeral gatecrasher: The Black Dress, by Deborah Moggach, reviewed

Abandoned by her husband of many decades, 69-year-old Pru takes to frequenting strangers’ funerals, hoping to meet an agreeable widower

Credit: Alamy

Here is a rare dud from the usually reliable Deborah Moggach. Her protagonist, Pru, finds herself alone at 69 after Greg, her husband of decades, leaves her out of the blue. There is a further loss to come for Pru, and Moggach is good on her ‘howling loneliness’; but what she decides to do about it doesn’t quite ring true.

Urged on by her sexy, bolshy friend Azra (who was Linda from Sunderland before a sudden reinvention) to meet someone new, Pru begins searching out the funeral notices of strangers, so that she can gatecrash the ceremonies and hit on the widowed husbands. Azra has told her that widowers are less likely than divorcees to be bitter, and that young women don’t understand bereaved men.

Pru buys a Breakfast at Tiffanys-type cocktail dress in a charity shop for these escapades and is invited home by at least one widower. There is some light farce here as Pru — with limited knowledge gleaned from Facebook — has to persuade grieving men and their families that she really did know their dead wife/mother/grandmother.

The strongest part of the novel is Moggach’s candour in discussing sex and ageing; it feels important that this still unpopular subject is foregrounded. Nonetheless, the plot has a strange rhythm. In the middle third of the book virtually nothing happens beyond Pru meeting Calvin, a nouveau riche helicopter pilot, while she is at the dentist, and then embarking on an unlikely romance with him.

Moggach seems almost too comfortable in this territory, and settles into making some pedestrian contrasts between Calvin and Pru: the marble interiors of his Potters Bar home gleam, while her house in Muswell Hill is so messy that when he first visits he exclaims:‘Streuth, you been burgled?’ At the point when descriptions of how middle-class Pru’s life has been (mackerel paté, Black Forest gateau) begin to seem interminable, there is a distinct gear shift and some wild plot twists occur which result in at least one character being charged with murder.

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