This book makes me think of this:
Down from Newcastle (on the train again) I read an article by Scott Keyser that tells us how our brain computes in threes and how we process information this way
A staple of oratory, lists of three have been used for millennia, as they relate to how we process information. We recognise and respond to patterns, and three is the smallest number of elements needed to create a pattern.”
And so I am giving you three images to set the scene (mis en place: Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn (of course), Michael and his sister Karen and me aged about 18 on a trip round Europe in a tent one summer) that is to set the time and place for this beautiful, devastating book around images that resonate with me and to which my mind returned time and again as I read the content of this book about loss and life (and Leeds).
Back Cover Blurb
The book blurb on the back cover reads:
When Cathy (the author) was seventeen, her brother Matty was her best friend. A year younger and much taller, he was clever, funny and outgoing. But one night in the summer of 1990, Matty was knocked down by a car and never walk or spoke again. Eight years later he died.”
And so it begins (and ends) right there.
Except that this book is so much more than that and serves to explore Cathy’s story on finding her place within her family to go on after the loss of Matty.
Emergency Brain Surgery is very Simple
Neurosurgeon Sir Henry Marsh is quoted at the front of the book:
Emergency brain simple is very simple – it involves drilling holes in the skull and draining out blood – and is well within the competence of most junior doctors. The question of whether to operate to try to save the patient’s life however is much more difficult”
What Constitutes a Life?
It’s subtle isn’t it as subtle as the line between life, a living life and death. But what constitutes a life and when is it serving a patient to keep a body alive without presence without a Soul. And then where is the soul when someone is left in a persistent vegetative state. Questions flow from this prompt which the books also explores at a deeper level. It is sadness but somehow much more than that as Cathy struggles to find her place in a world post Matty’s accident and during the nightmare eight years that followed.
But as Cathy writes:
somewhere along the way my grief story became a love story
and it is that above all that shines through this moving, harrowing book.
When Matt Haig reviewed the book he wrote:
This is a brilliant book, it is about love and loss and how we learn to live in the f ace of what life throws at us. You may well cry but you will feel better for having read it which you absolutely must.
On Chiswick Library
Cathy’s observational writing is real and clear – on Chiswick library (books reserve a special importance for her):
there was a bench outside which bore a dedication “For my mother a woman of courage and compassion.” I’d often sit on the bench looking at the plaque and wishing I knew the story behind it”
That touched me such that I paused as I journeyed and thought deeply about what such words meant – I love a book that can do that.
Life books touch on something sacred when written well; intimate and universal all at once and that for me is the skill of this writer.
And as I write, I remember my two beautiful older sons (Conor and Nathan) who have chosen to take time out of my life to follow their own adventures. God I miss you and long to re-connect. I have faith that option remains for me as my boys live.
Cathy gives me another insight too about my sons:
one of the problems of being over dependent on books is that I crave the degree of narrative resolution that you find in novels. Talking more to real people has helped me to see life as the glorious unshaped mess that it is. Things won’t fit won’t behave won’t allow themselves to be finished, finite completed”
And so it is and may be in the past I have been naive to feel that they do.
Thinking too as i write how my work, my profession, my job that has carried me through 25 years of experience is centered on the premise of resolution: how funny, how curious, how marvelous really that Cathy gifts me with that insight.
Matty died on that dark summer night but his body was kept alive in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery for a further eight years before all support was withdrawn.
How devastatingly cruel life can be.
This book could have been a book of misery and self indulgence but the writing transcends that. What lifts it for me is the clear lucid writing and thought capture of a very brave woman – a woman of courage and compassion – and isn’t every woman somewhere somehow this?
On the train home – more trains I am always thinking on trains – I realised that most of what I have to do now is about committing to the story line I’m in rather than continuing to pine for the lost narrative.”
Being in the now then over and over, time and again from the Buddha to Eckhart Tolle from Maharishi to Elizabeth Gilbert how being present carries you through the pain and suffering of emotion, its all there and Cathy stumbles on this too acknowledging how writing helps with being present and certainly that is my experience too.
I realised that the thing I most value is honest connection with other humans. I used to only dare look for that in books but now I see it in actual real-life people”
I have begun to feel that too (“only connect” writes E M Forster at Howard’s End) and when Cathy taking up a new job at Waterstones, writes:
I always feel a bit of an eccentric around other people and spent various bits of my life trying to hide the fact that I am clever and strange but all book people are clever and strange so I fitted in”
I knew I was home and dry.