Thursday, December 05, 2013

Mini-Review: “The Language of Dying” by Sarah Pinborough (Jo Fletcher Books)

Pinborough-LanguageOfDyingAn affecting, slim tale of loss, family and never-forgotten pain

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 traumatised in their own ways, their bonds fragile – have been there for the past week, but now she is alone. And that’s always when it comes. As the clock ticks in the darkness, she can only wait for it to find her...

Clocking in at only about 125 pages, The Language of Dying nevertheless packs an emotional wallop. A daughter watches over her dying father, as her brothers and sister visit their childhood home. Each is dealing with their own issues and difficulties – be it drug abuse, general unhappiness with their lives, and also their difficulty in dealing with the imminent death of their father. The narrator recounts a number of fond memories and also some extremely painful ones (which, if I recall correctly from a blog-post the author wrote not too long ago, may be at least inspired by certain real events). The book is filled with a great many small, intimate details – it’s quite British, too, in that respect. The family is clearly a broken family, in many ways, and their dealings with each other can be difficult and cause friction. But then, at other times, they reminisce together over happier times. There is perhaps, also, a history of mental instability. This gives a certain dreamlike and questionable quality to a possibly-supernatural slant to the story that is alluded to at the start, and appears again at the end (one I really liked – and I enjoyed the ambiguity).

“… I still look. Forty next birthday and I’m looking out of the window for something that may be imaginary, that I haven’t seen in fifteen years, if ever I saw it at all…”

This is, as I say right at the top, is a powerful, elegant tale of loss and family, and some of the different manifestations of grief. The story is incredibly moving, and I will admit to shedding at least a couple of tears (ahem, ok, more than that). A remarkable, short piece of fiction. Very highly recommended.

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