Loneliness, death and grief can be very taboo subjects, however we all read for a variety of reasons – to laugh, to cry, to be informed, to escape, to view the world from a new perspective by challenging and confronting our emotions and values. So with this in mind, here are a selection of books about these things.
The BBC has recently mapped the rise of loneliness or anomie across the UK – new mums, students, people who have moved area, the bereaved and the elderly are amongst groups of people who experience loneliness.
Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter
In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.
In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him.
Winner of several accolades ~ the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop prize and shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize.
“Porter won the £5,000 Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop accolade on Thursday night for first book Grief Is the Thing With Feathers, which was published to rave reviews in 2015.
He received [the] award at an event at the London Library. The prize is given for the best piece of fiction, nonfiction or poetry by a British or Irish writer aged 35 or under. Porter, who has just turned 35, joins an illustrious list of past winners including Zadie Smith, Naomi Alderman, Robert Macfarlane and Simon Armitage.” ~ Danuta Kean for The Guardian.
My review can be found on Goodreads.
The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough
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 broken, their bonds fragile – have been there for the past week, but now she is alone.
And that’s when it always comes.
Something from the dark side…immensely interesting, captivating, magical and sad. It is very much the language of dying.
The last time they met by Anita Shreve
When Linda Fallon and Thomas Janes meet at a writers’ festival in Toronto, it is the first time they have seen each other for twenty-six years. Theirs is a story bound by the irresistible pull of true passion — a love which begins in Massachusetts in the early 1960s, is rekindled in Kenya in the mid 1970s and which is about to play out its astonishing final episode …
This is my fourth Shreve book, and as with “Sea Glass”, I find them alluring and ethereal; like walking through rows of washing lines draped with billowing gossamer on a summers day. Shreve manages to cut to every detail of the soul, every imaginable wistful and lustful moment in an elegant and enchanting way. We are introduced to Linda and Thomas, meeting for the first time in many years at the age of 52. But this is not the beginning of their story, it is in fact the twilight of his journey. As the book unfolds the reader can return to this, part one, and have greater understanding of the moments that are experienced. What seems vague memories, are elaborated on in parts two and three, until the reader is led by hand, slowly but surely, to the ultimate enlightenment. A feast of language, of description and speech that transport the reader to not only the location, but also the moment, “The Last Time They Met” is a wonderfully, rich read.
The Less Than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote by Dan Micklethwaite
Donna Crick-Oakley walks on six inches of stories every day. She may live on the top floor of a tower block but she still pads her walls and floor with books to shut the real world further out. Or do they only shut her in? Armed with her myths and medieval adventures, Donna sets out to escape her isolation and change her home town to better suit her dreams.THE LESS THAN PERFECT LEGEND OF DONNA CREOSOTE is a modern fairy tale from the inner city, where the mundane becomes fantastical and the everyday ethereal, but where living happily ever after is often easier read than done.
Having chosen the Kindle edition (also available in paperback), the design of the front cover was just as important as a physical book. So as a bookish sort I was immediately drawn in by the clouds of books in the sky and the girl in pink dress balancing precariously atop of them. I knew this was going to be a book about books in some way. Published in July 2016 by Bluemoose books in Kindle format, this short e-book of 250 pages has been short-listed for the Guardian’s Not-the-Booker Prize 2016.
In short prose and clipped sentences, Dan Micklethwaite manages to challenge the notion of sanity and insanity, and therefore, the social construction of ‘normal’. When the avid reader first meets our early 20 something protagonist Donna, she is immediately likeable. Donna hoards books, reads indiscriminately and repetitively, and most of all she puts her books first as well as all over her flat. And then the cracks appear. Donna has been hit with the lack of purpose served up nicely by her absent father in the form of a lump sum of money that means she does not have to work. Instead, Donna has something far worse to do. She has to find meaning. When Donna finally realises she is in need not only of books but some new clothes to replace her well-worn leggings, it should not come as a surprise that Donna has set her sights on a ‘princess dress’. “Was happiness equivalent to princess-hood?” Nothing practical going on here. When Donna ventures to leave her flat in her normal clothes, she feels embarrassed and watched, but ‘safer’ in her errant Knight costume – the very opposite of our socially constructed norm.
Donna Creosote thinks of everything in terms of books. They are her fortress. She tries to remember any good memories about her parents, but comes out empty-handed.
“But babies do not hope. Not right at the start. They don’t need to. They are hope, in and of themselves. They are the front cover, clean and smooth, marked only with a name. Everything else – the character flaws, the scrappy plots, the inevitable falling back on cliché – is way out beyond them. At the start, before that front cover is turned, any book can be a masterpiece. By the end, most are little but a well-intentioned mess.”
What Micklethwaite has constructed is an accost to, and remedy from, the mundance of every-day life. Unaware that she is even attempting to find purpose, Donna has fabricated a sort of courage built from fiction. And then, she tries to fabricate a princess life with Sammy. Until she realises something very significant about being a princess …
This short read is humorous yet sad, fantastical yet harshly realistic. Well-written, realistic dialogue brings us closer to the moments that Donna experiences. And Donna Crick-Oakley is living on the edge of reality, often on the balcony of her flat, swaying her hips to the music of parties she never gets invited to. Life sucks.
From Appletree Books:
Remember that reading is now recognised as a form of healing, and that by finding something you enjoy, or can articulate your feelings for you in order to break through them, can be very rewarding. See my other posts on bibliotherapy or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org