Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden is both triumphant and devastating. This book will comfort you, hurt you, give you hope, make you angry, and send you spiraling. As the grim reaper, Mrs Death takes but she also gives, and she’s here to stay whether we like it or not.
A young child named Wolf evades Mrs Death, but their mother is not so lucky in the fire that engulfs their home. Wolf’s troubled childhood evolves into the life of an adult late on rent and reliant on benders to erase the pain. Wolf is an aspiring writer without a story to tell until they cross paths with Mrs Death again. The pair form an interesting partnership where Mrs Death reveals the pains of her existence. Wolf listens to her and writes about death and mourning and love and horror. Wolf writes about dead people, Mrs Death’s exhaustion, and the moments when it all went wrong. Wolf is hurting and healing and leans into their curious friendship with the grim reaper to examine our relationship with death and learn how we can move forward, forward, forward.
This book is unique in that some chapters are poems, some are structured in a typical narrative format, and others are a string of thoughts. Mrs Death Misses Death is disorienting, like I had many voices in my head trying to tell the story. Godden often uses repetition, giving her sing-song prose permanence and weight to the words she leaves on the page. Both the varying chapter structure and the prose made the story even more powerful because it mirrors what Wolf experienced with Mrs Death as they write about her existence. Wolf is often overwhelmed by Mrs Death and the tales she shares. This book is a product of their time together, and the haphazard content and layout are exactly what I would expect from their enlightening but dark encounter.
Godden tells this story from both Mrs Death’s and Wolf’s POV. The POVs alternate wildly and begin to blend into one as time goes on. There are many points in the story where it appears that Wolf is, in fact, communing with Mrs Death, but Godden also makes us doubt these interactions with scenes of Wolf drinking, taking drugs, or being diagnosed with a mental illness. Wolf becomes a conduit for Mrs Death and begins to tell her story while also working through the trauma and pain from their life. The tales seem separate but also connected and the thread I pulled through it all is that Mrs Death is the beginning and end and everything in between.
Mrs Death has a lot to say and she doesn’t sugarcoat anything because death is hard and necessary and unavoidable. She often rants to the reader and chastises humanity for losing sight of the important things in life. At one point, Wolf reiterates this by mocking Londoners on Christmas Eve who are consumed with worry, noting that the holiday will be ruined if they don’t purchase figgy plum rum bakes or artisan cream puff spangles. Mrs Death also laments over the amount of death she must carry out, whether it be the increase in mass shootings, police brutality, or suicides. She also mocks society as they concern themselves with hashtags when celebrities die and notes how poorly we handle death and mourning. Mrs Death is sick and tired of us really, and she is working harder than ever.
My favorite part of Mrs Death Misses Death starts with Wolf’s poetic disclaimer at the beginning of the book. It sets the tone for the entire story, and how you feel about this particular chapter will indicate if you should read this dark yet hopeful tale. After unexpectedly losing my dog this year, my grief has been hovering at the surface. This book made me feel seen, and I appreciate Salena Godden’s ability to capture the varied emotions surrounding death and loss. Mrs Death Misses Death is not an easy read, it will unearth your fears and soothe your soul, but most importantly it will give you the strength to appreciate life so much more.
Rating: Mrs Death Misses Death – 8.5/10