When to Walk

When to Walk

5.0 1
by Rebecca Gowers

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One part Melissa Bank and another part George Saunders, When to Walk is a laceratingly funny and deeply compassionate take on how one woman reinvents herself and learns that, no matter how late, there can always be a new beginning in life. When Ramble’s husband calls her an “autistic vampire” and abruptly ends their marriage over lunch, she


One part Melissa Bank and another part George Saunders, When to Walk is a laceratingly funny and deeply compassionate take on how one woman reinvents herself and learns that, no matter how late, there can always be a new beginning in life. When Ramble’s husband calls her an “autistic vampire” and abruptly ends their marriage over lunch, she isn’t quite sure what to do. She has no rent money, a looming deadline for work, and new neighbors who seem to have involved her in petty crime. Faced with the dissolution of a life she hadn’t really wanted, Ramble takes stock of what she has left. In Rebecca Gowers’s sharp debut, Ramble begins to reconsider everything her screwy family and unreliable but loyal friends have taught her so far. She spends a week taking apart her life and deciding which parts she wants to keep. Called “a mercurial delight” by the New Statesman and “brilliant . . . unforgettable” by Scotland on Sunday, When to Walk is a disarmingly honest portrayal of a young woman coming into her own—lit with hope, rich in magnificent characters, and hilariously wise.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

British writer Gowers follows her nonfiction work on Victorian criminals, The Swamp of Death, with a fictive weeklong journey inside the head of Ramble, a London woman quietly going crazy. Handicapped, partially deaf Ramble provides first-person narration that careens from her thoughts on photocopying pound notes to her grandmother's childhood to 1840s Stamp Office clerks with barely a breath. When husband Con calls her an "autistic vampire" and takes off with the petty criminal living downstairs, Ramble comes unglued, and the narrative goes along with her: "Remedial wise, give HER! The short shrift treatment NOW! And in a few days hence you will be beholding to no one: a law unto yourself. Oh yes!" While several quirky characters - particularly Stella, Ramble's dementia-suffering grandmother, and Johnson Pike, her childhood friend-are well imagined, Ramble's voice isn't enough to hold the book together as she flies apart. (Oct.)

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Kirkus Reviews
A momentous week in the life of a bright, withdrawn young English woman whose husband has just left her. A self-described "hack" travel writer with a noticeable limp caused by a teenage illness, Ramble is shocked, but somehow not surprised, when her husband Con informs her that their marriage is over. Telling her cruelly that she is an "autistic vampire" who needs to find her own life, the obnoxiously self-absorbed Con is right about one thing-Ramble is an especially insular character. She prefers books to meeting new people and while she possesses a keen mind constantly buzzing with fascinating bits of information, she nonetheless has difficulty communicating. She even avoids telling people for days that Con is gone, increasing her isolation. Con does not say where he is staying or what she should do about the rent. But he has, it appears, taken up with their streetwise new neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, a couple of low-level criminals specializing in credit-card fraud and "fixing" meters. While trying to absorb this unexpected twist, Ramble walks around in a kind of post-traumatic haze, going through the motions of her normal life while trying to make sense of the past choices that led her to her current crisis. Showing flashes of dark wit and a slow-to-emerge vulnerability, Ramble ultimately manages some meaningful interactions within her small circle, including a visit to her senile grandmother Stella and an unexpectedly sensual evening with childhood friend Johnson. She also finds an unlikely ally in the tough-talking Mrs. Shaw, whose stories of her own husband's regular disappearances help Ramble gain perspective on her own difficulties. These various characters, along with somequietly devastating insights, give our heroine courage for the literal and metaphorical steps she knows she must take, making the conclusion of Gowers's occasionally inscrutable debut heartening indeed. A sharp, literate roman a clef for readers who like their female empowerment free from sentimentality.

Product Details

Canongate Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.63(d)

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When to Walk 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
duck2ducks More than 1 year ago
When to Walk is a fantastic read, but you wouldn't know it from a back-cover blurb or review synopsis: We're told that Ramble's marriage suddenly ends over lunch, her husband calling her an "autistic vampire", how does she go on, blah blah blah. One is forced to (rightly) wonder: Surely this isn't compelling stuff? Is there really anything original left to say on this subject? What's most surprising is what the blurbs don't say: namely, how extraordinarily FUNNY the book is! Ramble, deaf in one ear and with "a dysfunctional pelvis", has a mind that's both brilliant and bent; her attention to detail is almost panoptical, and her tendency towards digression, reflection, and bewildering interpretation is no less hysterical than it is astounding. Her internal dialogue can make the strangest sidesteps - as when the sudden appearance of someone surprises her, and she promptly recalls the earliest OED citation (c. 1513) of the word "wow". This is the tenor of the novel's narration, and you'll either love it or hate it. The lunchtime pronouncement is a clear illustration, as it's not what the husband said, so much as her instant rewording: "He didn't put it like this, didn't use either of the words I'm about to use, but I found he was telling me that in the person of his wife, I have degraded into an autistic vampire." She's incredibly intelligent, possibly gifted, hopelessly internal in her workings, and one gets the sense of her being slightly surprised by most everything - if only for a second. At one point her husband complains that she spends too much time inside her own head, and we're annoyed to concede that he might have a point. (Not that this makes him any less of a bastard.) The novel takes place over a single week - each of the seven chapters comprising a single day - and, given the kind of story it is, doesn't have the greatest amount of plot. This has seemingly frustrated some readers, but I had no quarrel with that fact; Ramble's character and voice are such a singular mixture of ridiculous and affecting, that my only complaint was that it ended at all: I gladly would have read many more weeks' worth of her strange and comical misadventures. When to Walk is Rebecca Gowers' first novel, and it's an astonishing debut. I'll be anxiously awaiting her second.