I woke up this morning with a awful aching head
I woke up this morning with a awful aching head
My new man had left me, just a room and a empty bed
Empty Bed Blues by Bessie Smith (From the book – it inspired the title)
[ About Empty Bed Blues ]
When Kate Holohan’s husband dies suddenly, the extent of his disastrous financial speculation is revealed – together with a mistress and a secret love-nest in the small Italian fishing port of Camogli. Unwilling to take on the ocean of debt and deceit she has inherited, Kate abandons her home and teaching job and flees to Italy in the hope of making a new life.
Her new neighbour, Anna Ferrara, is a formidable and mysterious older lady who takes Kate under her wing, teaching her Italian, finding her work and offering her friendship and more. But it will be Anna’s past – as a journalist, writer, former Resistance fighter and a committed communist – that will also challenge Kate and force her to reconsider her responsibilities back home and the values she truly wants to represent.
Over three seasons, William Wall conjures the colours, tastes and scents of Liguria, as Empty Bed Blues explores the intersection of friendship, love, language, debt and politics, all told with humour, sensitivity and gold standard storytelling.
[ My Review ]
Empty Bed Blues by William Wall was published April 11th with New Island Books and is quite simply an exquisite and charming novel primarily set in the fishing village of Camogli in Liguria. It was an absolute delight to be able to attend the launch of Empty Bed Blues and to meet William Wall on Wednesday evening in Cork City Library, as part of Cork World Book Festival. I had turned the last page of Empty Bed Blues a few days ago but had decided to wait to write my review until after I had heard William Wall in conversation. I knew I would uncover some delightful insights and I did!
Empty Bed Blues is the beautifully engaging story of Kate Holohan, who unexpectedly finds herself widowed and in serious financial debt, following the untimely death of her husband. Kate is an academic and her husband was an accountant. They were reasonably well off, or so Kate thought. Kate never went on any fancy holidays, always choosing a work conference, and her husband a golfing trip. After his death, the scale of his misappropriation of funds became clear to Kate, with an influx of calls, email and visitors all demanding their money. Kate is angered by this and is driven further down this angry path when she receives a very unforeseen knock on the door. Kate is met by a strange woman who hands her a set of keys and immediately walks away. Kate is shocked with the realisation that this was her husband’s mistress – ‘His frightened mistress. She was beautiful. She had eyes the colour of cherrywood.’
With a little digging through her husband’s stuff, Kate connects the keys to a place in Italy, the apparent love nest of her husband and his lover. Enraged and overwhelmed Kate makes an immediate decision and books a flight. She has to leave Ireland. She has to get away from the constant demands for money that she doesn’t have. This was after all her husband’s doing. Kate had no involvement in his mess and wants no part in this collapse of cards.
Kate is a teacher. She has a good grasp of languages and is a lover of literature but her Italian is non-existent. With her luggage lost at the airport in Genoa, Kate is almost resigned to the constant stream of bad luck that she has had to deal with. She makes her way to Camogli, the location of the secret hideaway and, as each lock in each door is turned, Kate braces herself for the inevitable onslaught of feelings.
Kate is tough but even she is unprepared for the staggering sense of loss that suddenly consumes her. Not a sense of loss for her husband but a sense of loss for everything that will be taken from her
“The thought comes to me that they will find this house and sell it with everything else. They will find his car in the airport carpark and sell it. They will empty his bank accounts, wherever they are. I suspect there are many. They will sell my home of twenty years.”
Empty Bed Blues is a story of self-discovery for Kate. With little option, she has to make her way in a country that is unfamiliar to her. She is taken under the wing of an elderly neighbour in Camogli, the formidable and fabulous Anna Ferrara. Through Anna she learns more about herself and the type of person she would like to be. Anna is a woman with a complicated past, an independent and strong woman who sees potential in Kate and makes a decision to teach her Italian. Together they explore language and more evolving into a gorgeous relationship, all played out over tantalising food and wine in the most glorious location.
Empty Bed Blues is a novel with great depth. There are multiple layers and many literary references scattered throughout that add a richness to the narrative but at no point overwhelm it. William Wall is a prize-winning writer and a poet. He was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and in 2021 was the Poet Laureate for Cork City. His calibre of writing is truly lyrical, with a clear passion for Italy and its politics shining through. There is an authenticity and a tenderness to the writing of William Wall, all very evident in Empty Bed Blues, a poignant and glorious novel that I will most certainly read again.
[ Bio ]
William Wall is the author of six previous novels, five volumes of poetry and three collections of short stories. His work has won many awards, including the Virginia Falkner Award and the Raymond Carver Award. In 2017, he was the first European to win the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and, in 2021–2022, he was the first Poet Laureate for Cork City.
His novel This is the Country was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Website ~ http://williamwall.net/
Great photo, Mairéad 🙂
Thanks Patricia x