Monday, 12 April 2010

Review: "To Say Goodbye"

To Say Goodbye

Terry Lander (Lyvit Publishing)

You are not really ever prepared for this book. It is told from the point of view of a father who is writing to his three year old daughter, knowing he is dying from a brain tumour and will not see her grow up.

The first thing to mention is that although we are made aware that this in diary format from the start, the way it is written immediately forces us to accept the reality of the situation. We are both the father, tenderly talking to his daughter - but also we read as the daughter one day will, there is a real sense of empathy and fragility. Too often, books in this style suffer from gimmickry, or at the very least simply become a collection of pithy blog style musings. The clever part here – by leaving out the traditional constructs of story telling, as we read, our imaginations are given free reign, and their world is constructed with ease. There is no need for endless descriptive prose – the story builds around us as we delve further.

It is rare when adopting such a style that a book can evoke a world so fully. From the first page, we are thrown head first into a challenging and somewhat upsetting scenario. There is a child like naivety to the language that detracts from the sheer scale of the horror of cancer, and somewhat sugar coats it. This leaves some of the descriptions covered in a shroud of innocence, as if the darkness is bubbling under the surface. There is a tender sheath laid over a horrible truth, and it goes to create an odd mixture of calm and terror.

For all of these contradictions that so effectively reveal the story, one thing remains – the sheer beauty and conviction of the words on offer. It’s very British –very controlled, an almost serene dignity. There’s decorum here –it’s abundant. It has an edge though –the entries tell a girl of the things she did when she was younger, with which the character may have no memory of. There is oddness to reading a story about yourself with which you have no recollection, and this surreal state of mind permeates the page.

The tag line is “all they have is hope” and you feel this. Reading these words is like clutching onto hope, onto life. And that’s the ultimate extraction; this is joyous, full of hope -marking an end of a life but celebrating the start of another in the sweetest of ways – explaining the murky past to a damaged soul. It’s poignant and rather lovely in parts. Like distant symphonies, the space allows the reader to breathe, there’s much room to manoeuvre. The entries have a subtle grace about them; the book is filled with a vibrant compassion. It’s careful, yet in being this way, it spills over onto something altogether more encompassing.

Mark Hendy

"To Say Goodbye" is available from for £7.50

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