Death and the After Parties – Joanne Hichens
Joanne Hichens is best known as a crime writer, and a good one too. In Death and the After Parties, she tackles memoir, and particularly poignantly the death of her mother, the totally unexpected death of her husband Robert Hichens, her father, and her mother-in-law.
Before you decide that this is too grim a topic for a holiday season read, it really isn’t. Hichens deals with the death of her mother in great detail, they have time, six weeks to be exact, and what is needed to be said is said. She concludes that death with sadness, but the feeling that she “can do death”.
When Robert wakes up one morning with a pain in his chest, and slightly clammy she races him off to Constantiaberg Medical Clinic, they argue along the way, she’s going the wrong way, it’s just indigestion, all the usual things. But, it isn’t. By the time she has parked her car he is dead. A massive heart attack has turned her into a widow with three children, one very young.
I am a fan of people reading about death and acknowledging it as part of the continuum of life, and so have avidly read the great books about death, Atwul Gawande’s Being Mortal, which deals with end of life matters was my choice of a book to take to Zanzibar (yes, I got some funny looks). When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi a final year neurosurgical resident who chronicles his battle with dying of lung cancer is one of my staple reads.
But, Hichens is not only writing about the shocking fallout of her husband’s death. She goes on to examine her childhood, one spent circling the globe following her diplomat father. She paints an honest picture of growing up with siblings, of a sense of constant displacement, but generally speaking still a fortunate child.
She is also open about not coping, of making her two daughters fed up with her for drinking too much and taking too many pills to make life liveable. She is the widow – the marked, as she sees it.
Parts of the book are incredibly funny, there is no magic solution to how you survive death or the after parties, you live through it one step at a time, and sometimes it fades and sometimes it ambushes you.
I gulped it down in a night, this is a book that talks about ordinary life and loss. There are some lessons along the way about how to fall out with all your siblings more or less when you split up your father’s belongings after his death. All bets are off when items become things that you need to prove you were the best loved.
Perhaps two things that really struck home was that we invite death formally as a partner in our lives when we marry, and that it is part of us from our cradle to wherever our grave may be. A phenomenal read.
The Autumn of the Ace – Louis de Bernières
Daniel Pitt is a twice decorated flying ace, having served in both world wars. He’s also a man of unusual habits. In love with Christabel, who is in love with her woman friend Gaskell, the three muck along quite happily. Not unexpectedly, Daniel’s wife Rosie has turned into an unhappy woman, who has poisoned his own son against him.
But Daniel is determined to live his life to the end. There are journeys back to India to bury his brother’s bones, a motorcycle trip across the US to Canada.
The love of family and friends. Louis de Bernières, author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, tells a rattling tale of a life well lived.
Daniel’s story is one of redemption and of finding pleasure in the simple things, while acknowledging the horror of war, and the loss of love. A tour de force of a novel, ideal for a holiday gift, readable and human.
Written in Blood – Chris Carter
If you’re looking for a twisty thriller, look no further than Written in Blood, a detective Robert Hunter novel.
Angela is an ethical pickpocket, she only steals what she needs for a day, but she picks up more than she bargains for when she steals a briefcase that carries a dreadful secret.
Fast and pacey, Chris Carter has the ability to keep his readers on their toes, while writing really well. When Angela becomes the hunted prey of a serial killer with a sophisticated plot, she forms an alliance with Detective Hunter.
There are twists and turns, and lots of clever manoeuvres that reach a satisfyingly unexpected conclusion; lots of killing, but also psychological drama that elevates this from a mere thriller to a deeper book. Comes with warning: may keep you up all night.
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