Monday, 22 September 2014
Review: The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Format: Hardcover / eBook
Released: December 5th, 2013
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...
I read The Language of Dying a few months before my own mum unexpectedly died, and, if I'm honest, I don't think I'll ever be able to read it again. It's too powerful, too real and too close to home. That being said, Sarah Pinborough has written this book beautifully, making it both hard to read and even harder to put down. It hits you where you least expect it to, and is a book I'm still thinking about even now, safe in the knowledge that I'm not alone with my sadness and grief.
The Language of Dying is about an unnamed woman who is charged with the task of watching her father die. His life is in its final hours, and she is finally free of her flawed family and able to spend some time alone with him. It's a hard night, one that seems fast but also inexplicably slow. Death comes creeping in, steadily but surely, and there's really nothing the woman can do to deter it. All she can do is wait.
This book might be about a man dying of cancer, but it's also about his daughter and how she sees her life and the lives of her siblings. Neither one of them is perfect, her childhood was far from perfect, yet she's there, at the end, waiting out her father's last hours with him. She reflects on everything she's gone through to get this far, including her own shortcomings, and it's about as realistic a family tale as you're likely to get.
Sarah Pinborough has written this book with the utmost care and understanding, even though it's so harrowing and poignant. It's a book about death, about a life leading up to death and how we approach and journey through it. Death is something none of us can escape - I know that now better than I ever did before - but how we get to those final moments is what matters. What kind of life we lead, the family we're leaving behind, the mark we've made on people - at the very end of the day, it's what it's all about.
The Language of Dying is a short book, around 144 pages, but it's among those that have made the most impact on me. I think of it fondly, but also with a new sense of finality - I'll probably never pick this book up again, though I seem to remember every page as if I've just read it only moments ago. It's stayed in my head for almost seven months, swirling around, waiting for me to get my thoughts together and write what I want to say. Which is that The Language of Dying is a spectacular novel; short and to the point, realistic and heartbreaking, utterly horrible to imagine but truthful down to the very last page. It's not a book that will suit everyone, but if it is for you then it's a story that might just surprise as much as it saddens.