No 461 Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls

I am kicking off Contemporary Novellas week with a little known surrealist gem that explores the relationship between a lonely housewife and an amphibious humanoid sea creature named Larry. Yep, you did read that right but please trust me!

Mrs. Caliban is, afirst and foremost, a romance. Dorothy is a depressed and trapped housewife whose run of bad luck has worn her down. Her son has died of leukemia; she and her husband Fred have tried to have another baby but she miscarried; Fred is having at least one affair and the dog Dorothy bought herself as a companion has been hit by a car. To say that Dorothy is at a low ebb would be an understatement.

As she prepares dinner one night for Fred and a colleague, Dorothy has an encounter that will change her life forever.

And she was halfway across the checked linoleum floor of her nice safe kitchen, when the screen door opened and a gigantic six-foot-seven-inch frog-like creature shouldered its way into the house and stood stock-still in front of her, crouching slightly, and staring straight into her face.

It’s safe to say, that just like her namesake, Dorothy isn’t in Kansas anymore. Larry is on the run after escaping from the local Institute for Oceanographic Research and killing the scientists who were studying him in the process. He has broken into Dorothy’s house looking for food, which Dorothy provides, along with a room to sleep in and soon, the two are in a romantic relationship.

Larry, you see, has just been misunderstood. Like Dorothy he has been mistreated, he is lonely, and he just wants to get back to his people in their oceanic home.

To say more would be would be to spoil the pleasures at the heart of Mrs Caliban. Despite the surreal situation, the central relationship is explored with sensitivity and care. Dorothy and Larry might be a different species, but their shared loneliness draws them together. Larry shows Dorothy what it is to be respected and loved and Dorothy shows Larry that not all humans are going to hurt him. Ingalls cleverly balances the rather bizarre romance with some wonderfully funny moments – Dorothy teaches Larry to drive; his love of avocados pushes her food budget to the limit and they manage to walk around the neighbourhood together with Larry disguised in a wig and dark glasses.

Drawing from strange on-screen relationships like those found in E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Splash or King Kong, Mrs Caliban is a surreal delight. While the premise requires the reader to suspend disbelief to an incredible extent, the bond between Larry and Dorothy seems genuine, even necessary.

The relationship is so necessary for Dorothy that the question of Larry’s existence has to be raised. Is Larry even real? Has Dorothy created him in her own mind to deal with the trauma she has suffered? Mrs Caliban offers no answers, but is a funny, witty, touching and decidedly odd book that you won’t forget in a hurry. I haven’t read anything like it and that can only be a good thing.


Novellas in November The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

15 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I read about this book several months ago and went back and forth FOREVER over whether or not to read it. I was so skeptical, feeling it would be a waste of reading time. I mean that only in being we all have so many books we want to read. Now, this great write-up and I’m thinking I’ll run to the library! 🙂


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