Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reluctant Reading

Vintage, £7.99
   I'm sure I'm not the only one who has, after having put it off for far too long, finally started a book I've been meaning to read (and dreading reading) for ages, and to have found myself really enjoying it. In this case, it was my Book Club's choice a few months ago - 'The Beginner's Goodbye' by Anne Tyler. While it isn't my usual genre (I tend towards fantasy and science fiction), in this case I was really rewarded for leaning out of my comfort zone.
   I felt strongly at the time (and said so in the subsequent meeting) that, in order to get the most out of this book, you would need to be in the unfortunate position of having lost someone you loved very much. There's something here for everyone, but most for that small subset of us. 

   A particular quote was frighteningly apt. After my brother died a few years ago, I did shortly afterwards have a dream in which he was present. In the dream, I remember vividly being aware that he shouldn't have been there, but knew that to call attention to the fact would be to ruin the whole thing. The book says:
   'You would hold your breath. You would keep as still as possible. You would will your loved one not to go away again.'

   Lots of other sentences or passages were very familiar, or so opposite to my experience that they were quite revelatory:
   'I opened every sympathy note and read it with the utmost care, because there was always the chance that somebody would give me an unexpected glimpse of my wife.' - I read all the cards avidly. I don't think this was particularly the reason...
   'It was a good thing I had a job to go to. My job was my salvation.'  - For the character, Aaron, this means straight away afterwards. While I did feel like this, it took a while.
   'I wished I did have pain. I hated my body. I hated sitting there like a dummy while stronger, abler men fought to rescue my wife.'
   'I made no attempt to discard things. Not yet.' - This is probably more what my mother was feeling than me, but I don't think I've ever got rid of anything.
   'I had a huge, thick biography of Harry Truman that I'd begun before the accident. But I couldn't seem to make much headway in it. "Reading is the first to go", my mother used to say, meaning that it was a luxury the brain dispensed with under duress.' - This inability to read was, thankfully, not something I experienced. But it does also seem appropriate.
   'That was one of the worst things about losing your wife, I found: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with.'
   'She would be the warmth behind me in the checkout line; she's be the outline on my right as I was crossing the parking lot.' - Beautiful. And I did have a similar experience once, which is a strange feeling for an atheist.
   'And that was how I discovered the pleasures of watching a lawn being watered.' - I really love this, and I think it's great to take such pleasure in small things, whimsical things.
   '...I think if you knew them well enough, if you'd listened to them closely enough while they were still alive, you might be able to imagine what they would tell you even now. So the smart thing to do is, pay attention while they're living.' - Well, of course, that's the clincher. I think this is the explanation for a lot of things. 

   Anyway, whatever your usual inclination, I would strongly recommend this book. It's small but perfectly formed, and should hit a lot of familiar notes with people. How did Anne Tyler get it so right?

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