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Five Year Sentence [Hardcover]

Bernice Rubens


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Book Description

September 1978
A Booker Prize runner up. Miss Hawkins looked at her watch. It was 2.30. If everything went to plan, she would be dead by six o'clock. But instead, having been sentenced to live, she embarked on a mission to taste life's secret pleasures. The author won the Booker Prize for "The Elected Member".
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! June 8 2005
By Lara Stefansdottir - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I found this book on a shelf in Norway where I was visiting and I had to borrow it on my travel home to Iceland because I had to know what would happen to Mrs. Hawkins. This is one of the best books I have read, Mrs Hawkins is used to obey others her whole life (first in a orphanage, then in a factory) and the book starts on the last day at work when she is about to retire. Since she will not have anyone to obey after that she plans a suicide. But her fellows workers (whom she never talks to outside work) give her a diary for 5 years and now she can not die because it is of course her duty to write to the diary for 5 years. The orders she give herself are so funny - definitely worth reading.
3.0 out of 5 stars Unusual book March 10 2014
By kanegirl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It did keep my attention, but when I was finished, I could only describe it as weird. Compelling yet really could not recommend to friends.
5.0 out of 5 stars Miss Hawkins's Final Journey. Jan. 29 2014
By Peter Maughan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
The circumscribed life of Miss Hawkins, orphaned as a child and now a friendless, lonely spinster (Bernice Rubens was good at loneliness, its echoes in the everyday life of her characters, the things left unsaid, and those that are said not what was meant at all), how little she would leave behind, is there on the first page of this novel, when she tells herself that today she needn't bother listening to the weather forecast (a final note, as it were, before leaving this world, one, with no family or friends, addressed to herself). She tidies her flat, aware that soon, by her last act, she would be inviting strangers in, and leaves for the sweet factory, for the last day of her forty-six years working there, the last day of everything. For she intends before the evening taking her own life.

Those forty-six years have taken her (a passive journey) from the gift-wrapping department, up to boiled sweets, and then to marshmallows and fondants, and finally to the top floor of the firm, to chocolate liqueurs and the reward of head cashier (where no one remembers or knows that her first name is Jean). And now, as with the orphanage before it, it was done with; she was retiring, leaving her not only with time on her hands but with a life. And she intended, for the first time in it, doing what she wanted with it.

And then, to mark her retirement, she is presented in the work's canteen with a five-year diary. The sweet factory hasn't quite finished with Miss Hawkins; neither has life. She is used to been told what to do, and obeying, and now the sweet factory (or life; for Miss Hawkins it comes to the same thing), has given her further orders: five more years of living to do before she can retire from that as well.

And so begins Miss Hawkins's new, five year journey, one that Rubens treats with compassion and some humour. A journey with a rather bleak destination but which holds for Miss Hawkins a sort of revenge and maybe even redemption.
3.0 out of 5 stars Dark humour, but I struggled to find humanity: laughed AT Dec 1 2013
By Lady Fancifull - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Bernice Rubens wrote books which were either about the small, fragile, distinctly oddball members of society, with a mordant, warm and tender humour about their oddities, or, her other strand was the large writing about Jewish heritage and identity. This latter writing produced the magnificent Brothers, a veritable saga which rather wrings the reader out emotionally and is a compulsive page-turner (well it was for me)

I first came across Rubens in the first strand - the oddball, on the edge, sad, lonely loser and their story. This was in I Sent a Letter to My Love (Library of Wales), the story of a lonely spinster, later made into a French film.

Five Year Sentence is in the same territory. This time, a sad and lonely spinster does not write letters - but instead, keeps a diary (a five year one, hence the title) The relationship she forms with this diary is distinctly weird.

The book has an arresting beginning (not a spoiler, it is right there at the start:

"Miss Hawkins looked at her watch. It was two-thirty. If everything went according to schedule, she could safely reckon to be dead by six o' clock. Maybe I'll listen to the news first, she thought to herself. I won't need to bother with the weather forecast"

We immediately know that although the book is probably going to cover some quite dark territory, it glitters with humour, and the central character herself, however weird she is (very) possesses an eccentric sense of the amusing - `I won't need to bother with the weather forecast'

Jean Hawkins, raised in an orphanage, under the brutal rule of a ramrod Matron, starting work in a sweet factory, where she stayed, albeit rising slowly up a lowly ladder of promotion, is to retire. And is preparing to exit her unremarkable life. Clearly she doesn't and we follow the fortunes, or otherwise, of this rather peculiar, narrow life. Rubens treats her with some compassion, we do feel for poor Jean, she has a certain weird vitality - though it has to be said there isn't a single character in the novel that any reader could feel warmth towards - mainly because not one of them HAS any warmth or kindness.

Here is where this book parts company with the book it reminded me of (I Sent A Letter To My Love) as though the central characters belonged in the same `loser' category, there was warmth, tenderness and reaching out.

In this book, although we absolutely can have compassion for these wasted, mean, lives, there is something distasteful about all the characters; we are never offered a glimpse of who they might have been had circumstances treated them a little more kindly.

Unlike `I Sent A Letter' this book left me diminished, rather than expanded. Rubens was a fine writer. This is not an example of her best.
2.0 out of 5 stars Five Year Sentence April 17 2013
By dubious joe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Bernice Rubens wrote this story very strangely. The character is an old woman who cannot live with herself without being controlled. At the end she never really freed herself. It was a boring, yet suspenseful read.
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