Archives for grief

#Bookreview ‘Smash All The Windows’ by Jane Davis @janedavisauthor #literary

Thought-provoking, sometimes difficult, always moving, Smash All The Windows by Jane Davis starts at a run as we are pitched straight into emotional turmoil, grief, anger and betrayal. There is an inquest investigating an accident thirteen years earlier, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice. In turn we meet the survivors, and the relatives of the victims. Davis follows the paths of each person to their own resolution; there is no self-help book to follow, they must each must work it out for themselves. We see flashbacks to the days and hours before the accident as Davis unravels the real truth of what happened. This is a complex story with legal twists and turns, misunderstandings and minute step-by-step detail of what happened on that day, thirteen years ago, when over-crowding at St Botolph and Old Billingsgate tube stations in London ended in death. For thirteen years, blame has been thrown around, scapegoats have been targeted, the media has dug for dirt. This is an imaginary accident but with echoes of so many disasters – Hillsborough, Grenfell, Kings Cross – that it can’t help but be affecting. There are a lot of victims and survivors, a lot of relatives. The high number
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘When All Is Said’ by Anne Griffin @AnneGriffin_ #Irish

This book stayed with me a long time after I finished it. Three words sum up When All is Said by Anne Griffin. Masterful. Emotional. Funny. It is the story of Maurice Hannigan as he sits at a bar one evening. He drinks a toast to five people and tells the story of his life. It is one of those Irish novels which makes your emotions tingle and say ‘yes, it is like that’, which makes tears prick your eyes and laughter rise in your chest. This is Griffin’s debut novel but she is an accomplished prizewinning writer who knows how to tell a story. It is unbearingly touching and will, without fail, make you cry. Maurice is in the bar of the Rainsford House Hotel in Rainsford, Co Meath, Ireland. At the beginning we don’t know why he is there, the first few pages are an introduction to Maurice, how he feels his age, as he conducts an imaginary conversation with his son Kevin who lives in America. His first drink is a bottle of stout and as he drinks, he tells the story of his brother Tony and their childhood. A key incident in this section has reverberations
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Categories: Book Love.

A #poem to read in the bath… ‘I loved her like the leaves’

The sense of loss in this Japanese poem is unquenchable. Written by Kakinonoto Hitomaro in 7th century Japan, it speaks of emptiness so great there is no hope or comfort. Hitomaro was a poet of the Asuka period [538-710], serving as court poet to the Empress Jitō, and is considered to be one of the four greatest poets in Japanese history along with Fujiwara no Teika, Sōgi and Bashō. ‘I loved her like the leaves, The lush green leaves of spring That pulled down the willows on the bank’s edge where we walked while she was of this world. I built my life on her. But man cannot flout the laws of this world. To the shimmering wide fields hidden by the white cloud, white as white silk scarf she soared away like the morning bird, hid from our world like the setting sun. The child, the gift she left behind – he cries for food; but always finding nothing that I might give him, I pick him up and hold him in my arms. On the pillow where we lay, My wife and I, as one, I pass the daylight lonely till the dusk, the black night sighing till the dawn. I
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Categories: Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘A thousand years, you said’

Written in 8th century Japan, this poem speaks of the longing of love shadowed by impending death, and it is as relevant today as it was then. I discovered this poem in The Picador Book of Funeral Poems, and then stumbled on it again in an old paperback on my bookshelf, The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse. It was written by Lady Heguri in mid-late eighth century. No details are known of her, except that her poems are addressed to Yakamochi. ‘A thousand years, you said, As our two hearts melted. I look at the hand you held And the ache is too hard to bear.’   ‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson Amazon UK Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Runaways’ by Daniela Nunnari ‘Winter Song’ by Wilfred Owen ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ by Michael Ondaatje And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘A thousand years, you said’ by Lady Heguri https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dS via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Because I could not stop for Death’

This lyrical poem by Emily Dickinson sees the poet meet Death who, as a gentleman caller, takes a leisurely carriage drive with her. It was first published posthumously under the title ‘The Chariot’ in Poems: Series 1 in 1890, the edition assembled and edited by her friends Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Here are the first two verses. ‘Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality. We slowly drove – He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility.’ The poem has since been set to music by Aaron Copland as the twelfth song of his cycle The Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson.    ‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson [UK: Picador] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Happiness’ by Stephen Dunn ‘Lost Acres’ by Robert Graves ‘The Roses’ by Katherine Tempest And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dG via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

Book review: The Museum of You

This novel by Carys Bray starts with a wonderful description of twelve-year-old Clover watering her father’s allotment on a hot summer’s day. It is the beginning of the summer holidays and it is the first time she has her own front door key and is allowed out on her own. I smelt the dust, could see the shimmering heat and feel the cool of the water splashing from the tap. It is not a book in which a lot happens; rather it is a sensitive portrait of a single father and his daughter and how the past refuses to be ignored. After a school trip to the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, Clover decides her holiday project will be to curate an exhibit of her mother. She has no memories of her mum, who died soon after Clover was born, and her father never talks about the past. Clover never used to mind about this, not wanting to press him and cause distress. But now, poised on the edge of womanhood, her curiosity mounts. And so she ventures into the spare bedroom, a repository of the unwanted and unused. Amongst the piles of old clothes and broken things, she discovers
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Yuki Chan in Bronte Country

This was an unexpected novel. Unusual, charming, offbeat. A young Japanese tourist visits Haworth, birthplace of the Bronte sisters, though she has not read their novels. Why is she there amongst a busload of pensioners? And why, when it’s time to leave, does she do a runner and ignore phone calls from her sister? This is a novel about grief, acceptance and friendship. There are other things going on too – the science of snow, spirit photography – but basically it is a road novel. Yukiko Chan leaves Japan for England to follow in the footsteps of her mother, who died ten years previously. ‘She is like Columbo, gathering evidence.’ But, in the way of road novels, Yuki finds answers to questions about herself she had not considered, and friendship and help from unexpected quarters. The reasons for the road trip are drip-fed, this is a slow, thoughtful book, so read it with patience. I loved it. It is touching and quirky, as is Yuki herself, from her thoughts on how airports should be designed, to plans for more revolving restaurants. And why, she puzzles, are the biscuits in the Bronte gift tins not shaped liked the three sisters? Read
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Somewhere Inside of Happy

Yet again, Irish author Anna McPartlin tackles difficult issues. Grief – as in the superb The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes – dementia and homophobia. And there is laughter and tears. It is a thoughtful book with strongly drawn characters, Irish humour and a fair amount of ripe language. It is the story of Maisie Bean, a single mother who has fought bravely to escape a violent husband and raise her two children, Jeremy and Valerie. The story starts, on January 1, 1995, when Jeremy disappears. Ever since his mother found the strength to leave her abusive husband, Jeremy has been the man of the family. He has been responsible, thoughtful, helpful, caring for his grandmother Bridie who suffers from dementia, keeping an eye on his younger sister Valerie. In doing so he has repressed who he is because he doesn’t really understand who he is, all he knows is that he is different. Somewhere Inside of Happy is an examination of generalisations, assumptions and misunderstandings, how the crowd dynamic and a troublesome media can turn a whisper into fact. How a community looks the other way whilst a drug-addict father neglects his son and how gays are referred to
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Did You Ever Have a Family

Everyone by now must know the premise of this novel by New York literary agent Bill Clegg. A vacation home explodes, a family is wiped out. This is the story of those who remain, of grief, of memories and regret, of resentments and prejudice. This is a very affecting novel, it feels almost voyeuristic, invading the privacy of those who are grieving. It is clear that Bill Clegg writes from the heart, from his own experience, not only of grief but of the Connecticut landscape, the setting, and the secondary theme of drug use. This novel is a study of how ordinary life can be torn apart by tragedy, so mind-blowing that the irrelevance of real life must stop. But daily life doesn’t stop, not really, day follows night, as June discovers as she drives from east to west coast. This is one of those books I will buy as hardback. I want to keep it, and re-read it often. To read more about how Bill Clegg writes, click here. If you like Did You Ever Have a Family, try this:- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara If I Knew You were Going to be this Beautiful I Never Would
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Butterfly Barn

Reading this book was like sitting down with a crowd of girlfriends for a long-delayed get-together. In Butterfly Barn by Karen Power, Ireland leaps off the page, present in the speech of the characters, the scenery and the ‘feel’ of the book. This is an easy book to read in that the pages turned quickly, but it deals with difficult topics: infant mortality, grief, betrayal, guilt. Like many Irish authors, Karen Power writes with a connection to the Catholic faith and – though I am not in the least bit religious – this did not interfere with my enjoyment of the tale. It is a women’s novel, about women, their strength, their suffering, their mutual support and above all the way they deal with what life throws at them. On a transatlantic flight, Grace gets talking to the lady in the next seat. A friendship is forged which sees them re-united in Bayrush, Ireland, where Grace’s best friend Jessie is expecting twins. Grace is engaged to Dirk and all looks happy, until Jack – a teenage crush – returns home from Dubai. This is the first of a series of this wide cast of characters, at times a little too
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

Rabbit is dying of breast cancer and this is her life story. Anna McPartlin has written the story of Rabbit’s last few days, in a hospice, surrounded by family and friends. And it is the story of her life. It will make you laugh and cry, tossing your emotions around like a washing machine on spin cycle. I loved it. It’s an interesting story to read, from an author’s point of view, as we know what happens. The title tells us that this is the story of Rabbit’s last days, therefore she is going to die at the end. But this doesn’t matter a jot, as we see her life in flashbacks. I liked the character so much I wanted to read about her. It is at times irreverent, it will make you laugh out loud – especially at the scene which involves Rabbit sleeping, her mother, and a priest – and it will bring a tear to the eye as the future of Rabbit’s daughter hangs in the balance. Will she stay in Ireland, or go abroad? To find out more about Anna McPartlin, click here for her website. Read my review of Somewhere Inside of Happy, also by Anna
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Pure in Heart

The nature of death, grieving and hope are examined in this, the second Simon Serrailler novel by Susan Hill. To give these books a label – thriller, crime novel, detective novel – is to underplay the complexity of the subject. It is an examination of human nature. A nine-year boy waits by the garden gate for his lift to school, but is never seen again. A severely handicapped young woman dies. Both families struggle with grief, reacting in different ways, ways which cause tension within the family. And involved in the mix is a local man, an ex-con newly released from prison, struggling to stay straight, struggling with the prejudices of his family. Reading this book will make you examine your own prejudices, your attitude to death and dying, it will make you as ‘what would I do if…’ The small cathedral town of Lafferton is like an extra character in Susan Hill’s Serrailler novels. Surrounded by wooden hills and deep ravines, it is at once brooding and at the same time reassuring. Read my review of the first Simon Serrailler novel The Various Haunts of Men. If you like this, try:- ‘The Truth Will Out’ by Jane Isaac ‘No Other
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Colm Tóibín

Colm Toibin “I didn’t write a great deal that I erased but I did think of a great deal that I put aside because everything had to, in some way or other, have a drama in it. I began to trust [the novel], so I felt that if I put enough detail in this, especially in the opening chapters, that I will build up a relationship between her and the reader where the reader will become interested in even the smallest thing that happens to her, or that she remembers.” Colm Tóibín, talking about the writing of ‘Nora Webster’, in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine [August 1, 2014] I found this a fascinating comment on the use of detail to connect with the reader. A popular style for a long time – really since Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love with its electrifying opening scene with the balloon – has been to grab the reader from page one and then fill in the context afterwards. With his concentration on detail, Tóibín suggests another way: trusting the reader to stick with it, slowly constructing the character and the context for her life, making her real in the reader’s imagination. It works only
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

I was blown away by this book by Rachel Joyce and read it in two sittings. First, you do not need to have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry before you read this. I don’t really think it matters which of the two you read first, they are companion books rather than prequel and sequel. Second, this is the most accurate portrayal of people living in a hospice that I have read, and it is not something often written about. Rachel Joyce confronts head-on the fact of Queenie’s terminal illness, and that of her fellow residents at St Bernadine’s Hospice. But she doesn’t concentrate on their illnesses, she concentrates on their characters and in this way they form a colourful backdrop to Queenie’s story. They are not defined by their illnesses, and neither is Queenie. This is the story of her life, a story we learn because she is writing a long letter to Harold Fry. Queenie is in the North-East of England, Harold is in Devon. They worked together many years ago. Queenie writes to Harold to tell him he is dying. He writes a reply, but instead of posting the letter he decides to deliver it himself
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Nora Webster

This novel by Colm Tóibín is such a slow burn. I came to it after reading a thriller, so perhaps that’s why the pace seemed so slow. And then I took a deep breathe and let myself sink into the deep pool of the story. Reading this book was a little like listening to my mother tell the story of her life, tiny baby steps. The everyday voice of Nora, a kind of everywoman, is so clear. An ordinary woman, she is grieving for her husband Maurice and living in a world of echoes. This is a novel about grief, living with grief, and the slow re-awakening of life. Tiny baby steps. Nora cannot indulge her grief. For one thing, money is short and her two young sons must be cared for. Her two daughters too, though older, need their mother although they don’t think they do. Nora struggles to get through her own day in which every minute is shadowed by her loss, but life gets in the way, decisions must be made. Day to day she does the best she can, trying to get the everyday detail right but not seeing how her sons’ grief is manifesting itself.
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Elegy’

Today’s poem to read in your bath is about timeless love that persists beyond death. ‘Elegy’ by Carol Ann Duffy is from her anthology Rapture, published in 2005, before she was appointed Poet Laureate in 2009. Her poetry is at once instantly accessible, and bears deep consideration. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Elegy’ Who’ll know then, when they walk by the grave where your bones will be brittle things – this bone here that swoops away from your throat, and this, which perfectly fits the scoop of my palm, and these which I count with my lips, and your skull, which blooms on the pillow now, and your fingers, beautiful in their little rings – that love, which wanders history, singled you out in your time? The love, the longing, the wistfulness, brings tears to my eyes. Click here to visit Carol Ann Duffy’s website. Listen here to Carol Ann Duffy interviewed by The Guardian after her appointment as Poet Laureate.   ‘Rapture’ by Carol Ann Duffy [UK: Picador]  Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Book review: Wake

Amongst the profusion of novels about the Great War, Wake stood out for me from the rest because it is about the aftermath rather than the fighting. The spine of the narrative is the journey of the body to be entombed in Westminster Abbey as the ‘Unknown Soldier’. I have visited the tomb but had not considered its selection, the post-war politics and social consequences of choosing one soldier’s remains rather than another. Anna Hope handles a delicate topic – isn’t everything to do with war emotionally-delicate? – with confidence. Wake is a powerful novel by a debut author. There is something unsettling about the first scenes where un-named soldiers drive out into what was no-man’s-land, not knowing where they are going or why. They are directed to dig up the remains of a soldier: unidentified soldiers dig up the remains of an unidentified victim. Four bodies are laid out, not so much bodies as heaps of remains. A Brigadier-General closes his eyes and rests his hand on one of the stretchers, this body is put into a thin wooden coffin. The three not chosen are put into a shell hole at the side of the road, a chaplain says a short
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Categories: Book Love.