Friday, August 14, 2015

The Mask of Memory

By Victor Canning

Margaret is finally facing the fact that her husband, Bernard, no longer loves her. Years ago, he decided he didn't wish to share a bed with her and moved into a different room. He works in London and they live in the country. He has an apartment in London and spends most of his time there. In fact, he has a girlfriend.
Margaret, who has endured her loveless marriage for years, has met a man who seems enamored with her. Dougall is a laborer and part-time artist. He is an orphan and has been poor all his life. In Margaret he sees a chance at a better life. He callously plans to seduce her and gain control of her and her considerable fortune. And when he tires of her, he plans to dump her and walk away with her money, because, as he says, "he was never going to love her or anyone else." Dougall only believes in looking out for himself.
One weekend Bernard brings home an important report to work on. Margaret confronts Bernard and tells him that she has fallen in love with Dougall and she wants a divorce. Bernard sees through Dougall and tries to reason with Margaret, telling her that Dougall is just using her to get to her fortune. But Margaret refuses to listen and they have a fierce argument. Bernard goes out for a walk to cool down and meets his doom. As he lays dying, he leaves a message on his government-issue watch which has a recording function.
After his death, government officials descend on Margaret's house, looking for that report and for the watch. Margaret has run off with Dougall after the funeral and is not to be found. She is finally tracked down and it is revealed to her that her husband hid his marriage from his bosses. Bernard was not only unhappy in his marriage but unhappy in his job too.
Margaret has problems beyond her lonely marriage. She has spells where she goes to stores and shoplifts. She has no memory of these episodes and only knows what has happened by the stolen items she finds in her pockets. She is not a very intelligent person and fails to see through Dougall's machinations, even when it is all laid out for her by Bernard. And now that Bernard is dead, there is no one to save her from herself.

When I first started reading this story, I was really put off by it. Bernard is cold and uncaring, Margaret is a fool, and Dougall is a bounder. How are you supposed to like a story when all the characters are so unsympathetic? I put the book down for weeks before I picked it up again, right at the point where Margaret and Bernard quarrel and Bernard dies. That is when his colleagues become more involved in the story in the desperate search for the hidden report and the lost watch and Margaret runs away with her new lover, Dougall, whose plan is use her then cast her aside, possibly by murdering her, once he can talk her into changing her will in his favor.  The suspense in the second half of the story really drew me in and I finished the book within two days. At the end, I felt very satisfied with this story and quite enjoyed it.

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