I received this book for free from Jo Fletcher Books, NetGalley, Quercus in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough
Published by Jo Fletcher Books on December 1st 2013
Source: Jo Fletcher Books, NetGalley, Quercus
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Tonight is a special, terrible night.
A woman sits at her father's bedside watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life. Her brothers and sisters - all traumatised in their own ways, their bonds fragile - have been there for the past week, but now she is alone.
And that's always when it comes.
As the clock ticks in the darkness, she can only wait for it to find her...
An emotionally raw novella about caring for a dying parent, dysfunctional family relationships, and depression. This book is being rereleased on August 2, 2016.
There is a language to dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy. It is a secret hushed thing that lives in the whisper of the nurses’ skirts as they rustle up and down our stairs. They’ve taught me to face the language one syllable at a time, slowly creating an unwilling meaning.
As a woman sits beside her dying father’s bedside, she reflects on the events that shaped her dysfunctional family’s circumstances and the events that led her back to her childhood home. Caring for her father in his last months and the ups and downs of life have taken an enormous emotional toll on her, but she is the only one in her family who was up for the task. Spending time with her father during his final transition has given them a strong and unique bond. The tender way she cares for him is extremely touching. She refers to her father as “you,” so the book reads like she is writing him a letter. It feels deeply personal, like a memoir. The tone is melancholic. I really liked the concepts of time folding and “the drift” that reappear throughout the book.
Most things in life change gradually. Events creep up on you from behind just like the language. You barely notice the beginnings; it’s only when things go terribly wrong that we wipe the sleep from our eyes and wail miserably, ‘How the hell did that happen?’
The narrator has been alone in caring for her father after his cancer diagnosis. In his final days, the narrator’s four siblings return to the family home. “The beginning of the putting-back-together before we fall apart.“ There have always been unofficial alliances between the siblings; the oldest two are only a year apart and have always had a special connection and the youngest two, twins, have their own unique bond. The narrator was always on her own, matched to her father due to circumstance.
The boys share a smile over something Penny has said and I can almost see their childish faces shimmering under the worn skin they have now. Only just, but the traces are still there. That makes me sadder than if they had been gone forever and I go to the sink and slowly wash up, hiding in the task.
While the narrator has a reputation for being a dreamer, she is the only one who is able to directly confront the reality of what is happening to the father. “And they think I’m the one lost in my own world. I guess sometimes you have to hide from the world to see it properly.” The scenes where the siblings came together was heartwarming (and made me feel nostalgic), but inevitably they all reveal their true selves through their cracks. Personalities clash and old resentments flare. There is an emotional scene where the narrator unleashes her rage at her older brother. She can’t remember what she said in her tirade and the words are never revealed to the reader, yet the moment is so raw and honest.
There is no laughter now, no tall tales, just a man who can’t deal with losing his father. Or maybe can’t deal with the process of losing his father. I wish he could get a glimpse of other people and see that they feel and think, just like he does. Maybe then he’d realise that none of us can deal with it. We just have to suck it up and get on with it.
As I expected from the gorgeous book cover and the Neil Gaiman blurb, there is a smidge of fantasy. During emotionally traumatic and transformative moments in her life, “special, terrible night[s],” the narrator sees a grotesque unicorn-type beast in the field outside of her home. It demands her attention and beckons her to follow. These moments quickly pass and are integrated seamlessly in the context of the events, so it shouldn’t prevent those that typically avoid fantasy from reading it.
Growing up is about realising that the cracks in the pavement are nothing to worry about. It’s the cracks inside that count.
At only 144 pages this is a very quick read, but it packs a strong emotional punch. It is filled with beautifully written passages. By the time I finished this book, I wanted to get my hands on everything Sarah Pinborough has ever written! If you enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (atmosphere/reality + bit of fantasy) or A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (parent dying of cancer/reality + bit of fantasy), you will probably like this book. It also made me think back to the scenes concerning Levin’s brother’s fate in Anna Karenina.
This is just the end. It isn’t the everything of you. And it’s the everything we’ll remember when the memory of this fades. I remember me and Penny in the bath splashing bubbles, you smiling behind the camera. Or maybe I just remember the yellowy seventies photograph, but either way those things are the everything. All moments that have arrived here.