Autobiography

All posts in the Autobiography category

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death – Maggie O’Farrell

Published October 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I AM, I AM, I AM is a memoir with a difference – the unputdownable story of an extraordinary woman’s life in near-death experiences. Intelligent, insightful, inspirational, it is a book to be read at a sitting, a story you finish newly conscious of life’s fragility, determined to make every heartbeat count.

A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital. Shocking, electric, unforgettable, this is the extraordinary memoir from Costa Novel-Award winner and Sunday Times bestselling author Maggie O’Farrell.
It is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger, and what would you stand to lose?

What did I think?:

Where do I even BEGIN with this book? I can’t express eloquently enough the depth of my feelings for this unforgettable memoir or even explain adequately how much it affected me but I’m going to give it a good shot. I listened to the Audible version of I Am, I Am, I Am (which I highly recommend by the way) but it’s one of those books that because it has become a favourite of mine, I simply had to get a hard copy also and was lucky enough to receive one as a gift. This book has had a lot of hype around the blogging/reviewing community and rightly so. After reading a fair few of Maggie O’Farrell’s novels, I already knew she was a gifted, beautiful writer but even after all the critical acclaim, I still wasn’t prepared for the wave of emotions this book invoked. There were points when I was almost a sobbing mess and kind of wished I wasn’t listening to it in public (more on that later) and other parts which made me reflect on the nature of mortality and the fascinating journey my life has been up until now whilst fully appreciating the good things and the great people that I am lucky to have around me and hold them close. I can’t thank the author enough for reminding me how precious they really are.

Maggie O’Farrell, author of I Am, I Am, I Am.

If you’re slightly cynical of the title and wonder how O’Farrell can possibly have had seventeen near death experiences, let me explain. The events that the author discusses are brushes with mortality that both she and her children have suffered in their lives. Some are mere whispers of things that might have been i.e. near escapes, potentially life-altering events and then there are the severe, life-threatening episodes that continue to have a dramatic effect on the author’s emotional and physical health. This ranges from a severe childhood illness that Maggie sadly still suffers repercussions from, encounters with individuals that threaten her life, problems with pregnancy and labour and the current trauma that Maggie finds herself embroiled in that profoundly affects the present and the future of one of her children. This is an honest, raw and deeply moving look at life and death in all its guises that may make you look at your own life in a whole different way but will most assuredly make you happy just to be alive.

I think I’ve become a more emotional person as I’ve got older and gone through different experiences in my life and I do find myself slightly more sensitive to difficult topics, including illness and death. However, I was profoundly moved by Maggie O’Farrell’s story and couldn’t quite comprehend a) the obstacles she has overcome in her life b) how she continues to struggle and cope on a daily basis with her daughter’s heart-breaking medical problems and c) how she manages to maintain such a strong, positive and sunny outlook. I felt humbled, inspired and honoured to be allowed into her world and, as I’ve mentioned, it did make me consider parts of my own life, particularly those parts where I felt a strong personal connection with the author.

I wrote a post a while back about how I’ve been coping with recurrent miscarriages and funnily enough, it seems to be a topic which appears in quite a few books I’ve read recently! I was worried at first about how I was going to deal with reading about it but I’m actually finding it quite therapeutic – now even more so with I Am, I Am, I Am. Miscarriage unfortunately seems to be still quite a taboo subject and when I was going through it these past eighteen months, I didn’t really feel able to talk to anyone who would really understand what I was going through. With this memoir, it’s so strange to say, but finally I feel understood and comforted. Maggie talks about her own loss so articulately and thoughtfully that it was such a relief to realise that all the emotions I was experiencing were perfectly natural and more importantly, that I wasn’t alone. Other people were going through this, other people felt the same way as me and I shouldn’t blame myself on any level. As I listened to this particular passage, I was walking to the train station on the way to work and I have to admit, it wasn’t the easiest thing to listen to whilst I was in public. But holy cow, was it rewarding? The answer is yes.

It’s often quite tricky to dissect a memoir. After all, this is someone’s life, personal experiences, tragedies and triumphs you’re talking about and we all may have differing opinions on it depending what we’ve been through in our own individual lives. However, for me this book was perfection. It reminded me about love, about how special life is and most importantly, how to hope and believe in a better future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries Of A Junior Doctor – Adam Kay

Published September 5, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Adam Kay was a junior doctor from 2004 until 2010, before a devastating experience on a ward caused him to reconsider his future. He kept a diary throughout his training, and This Is Going to Hurt intersperses tales from the front line of the NHS with reflections on the current crisis. The result is a first-hand account of life as a junior doctor in all its joy, pain, sacrifice and maddening bureaucracy, and a love letter to those who might at any moment be holding our lives in their hands.

What did I think?:

I have been hearing about this book literally EVERYWHERE and it has been taunting me for months now, pleading to be read. At the moment and probably for the forseeable future, I work for the NHS as a scientist and come into contact with a lot of junior doctors, usually by phone when I’m giving out patient results. My mum also used to work for an NHS hospital as a nurse on an emergency surgery ward so she too is more than familiar of the importance of forging good relationships with doctors. You could say, as a family, we’re very aware of the crucial need for our health service and I was excited to read a book that would uncover an inner secret sanctum I may not have had complete and exclusive access to before. I actually listened to this book on Audible after recently getting into audiobooks as a way of reading more when I’m out and about and I couldn’t have picked a better first choice of book. This Is Going To Hurt is a no holds barred account of what it’s really like to work for the institution that is the NHS and deals frankly and hilariously with a variety of patients that Adam Kay has worked closely with as a doctor.

Adam Kay, author of This Is Going To Hurt, pictured here enjoying his own book!

This brilliantly funny work of non-fiction is told in the form of diary entries from when Adam was a junior doctor right the way through his career which ended when he was a senior registrar. Some diary entries are shorter than others but in each one, Adam’s dry wit and passion for what he was doing shines through and we hear fascinating tales of his work, mostly in gynaecology that have the power to make you laugh, shock and amaze you and by the end of his journey in medicine, irrevocably break your heart. Adam bares his soul in this memoir and doesn’t hold back from the grittier, nastier side of what it’s like to work as a doctor with the NHS in the current situation that it finds itself now – understaffed, underfunded and supremely underappreciated.

Honestly, what on earth did we do before the NHS?

Throughout this book, when I wasn’t laughing, I was filled with admiration and a new-found respect for the work that doctors do, the severe pressures they are under, the extended shifts that they work, the fatigue and stress that they must suffer and the walls that they have to put up to protect themselves in highly emotive and painful situations. Personally, I would have loved to have been a doctor but even if I had got the grades, reading This Is Going To Hurt only brought back to me what I had suspected about myself all along. I couldn’t do it. I’m a bit of a sensitive soul and the emotional aspect of the job, which is of course unavoidable, would be far too devastating for me to handle. As a result, I give an internal “high five” to EVERY doctor/nurse out there who deals with often heart-rending decisions on a daily basis.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the cases that Kay talks about for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t read this yet but let me assure you, some of the incidents that he recalls are forever etched in my mind, the mental imagery of some will probably never be erased! Obviously, patients have complete anonymity but I often wonder if the real-life patient behind the author’s case reads this book and cringes with embarrassment, recognising the resemblance to their own experience! He doesn’t shy away from detailed, descriptive passages and some recollections might be a bit too graphic for the queasier audience but I found his brutal honestly and candour both refreshing and fascinating. I particularly loved the sections where he bemoans the state and instability of the health service, the expectations placed on doctors and the alarmingly little time given to ensure doctors’ mental heath is being taken care of considering what they have to see and experience during a regular shift.

I can’t stress enough how wonderful and amazing this book really is if you’re in the mood for something that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. Curious about the experience of junior doctors in the NHS? Adam Kay strips it all back with unflinching honesty and everyone is invited in to observe.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Diary Of A Young Girl – Anne Frank

Published September 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary, written in the Amsterdam attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years, has become a world classic and a timeless testament to the human spirit. Now, in a new edition enriched by many passages originally withheld by her father, we meet an Anne more real, more human, and more vital than ever. Here she is first and foremost a teenage girl—stubbornly honest, touchingly vulnerable, in love with life. She imparts her deeply secret world of soul-searching and hungering for affection, rebellious clashes with her mother, romance and newly discovered sexuality, and wry, candid observations of her companions. Facing hunger, fear of discovery and death, and the petty frustrations of such confined quarters, Anne writes with adult wisdom and views beyond her years. Her story is that of every teenager, lived out in conditions few teenagers have ever known.

What did I think?:

The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of those pieces of non fiction that occupies a very special place in my heart. I’ve read it a few times now at different points in my life through my adolescence right through to adulthood and each time I’ve managed to get something unique out of each reading experience. It’s not a five star read for me and that’s only because, I have to be honest, I do find parts of Anne’s diary a bit slower than others but it earns a rightful place on my favourites shelf because of what it’s given me over the years. Over this past year, I’ve challenged myself to a little experiment where I have a current read, a work of non fiction and a favourite re-read on the go at the one time. I set this challenge for myself as I realised I have a host of non fiction books on my shelves that just aren’t getting read and that I need to get round to, whilst also realising that with all the exciting new releases coming in, I don’t get a chance to re-read the books on my favourite shelves. The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of my all-time favourites and after this latest re-read, definitely deserves to keep its spot on the shelf.

Anne Frank, the author of the diary entries put into a collection by her father, Otto Frank.

If you haven’t managed to get round to reading this book yet (and I feel like it should be required reading in ALL schools!), Anne Frank is a young girl from a Jewish family who is forced to go into hiding with her parents, sister and another family when the Nazis descend upon their town and begin to remove all people of the Jewish faith to camps and ghettos, basically sealing their fate to one of misery, poverty, disease and in far too many scenarios, death. Assisted by some friends, the two families are ensconced in a Secret Annex concealed from the world by means of a bookcase which opened onto their tiny living quarters where they were forced to hide for two years. Most of the time they had to exist in complete silence because of the workers in the office below or the proximity of the other houses to their own space. Discovery of the family would result in deportation and execution of all those that hid there and of those that helped them evade the authorities so playing by the rules of the house, being as quiet as possible and desperately awaiting the end of the war became normal life for the families that lived there.

Reconstruction of the bookcase that hid the doorway to The Secret Annex.

Image from: By Bungle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4132164

As I mentioned earlier on in my review, I’ve managed to extract something different from each experience I’ve had reading The Diary Of A Young Girl. Reading it as a teenager, I felt strangely close to Anne and I felt a well of emotions being stirred up regarding the horrific situation she finds herself in, her normal feelings as a young teenager herself (particularly about boys!) and those awkward adolescent moments where the hormones are raging and you feel yourself developing into a woman coupled with the confusion that often accompanies these thoughts and feelings. Having to cope with all of this whilst living in such close quarters with her family, another family and having no means of escape left me feeling so uncomfortable and sorry for Anne that at times, I had to silently applaud her for her tenacity, humour and bravery that is clearly apparent and so endearing throughout her diary entries.

On my latest reading of this book, I got even more than I ever could have expected from it emotionally speaking and that’s because I had the good fortune to visit Amsterdam about eight years ago and more specifically, the house and Secret Annex where Anne Frank was hidden. It was an experience I will never, ever forget, especially when I saw how small their quarters actually were. It was frightening to think that eight people had to live in such a small space and I couldn’t stop saying to my partner how unbelievable it was that they could survive in those cramped, overcrowded conditions for so long and all parties managed to keep their sanity. However, there are two stand-out points that I take away from Diary Of A Young Girl that I find particularly heart-breaking. The first is that Anne’s story does NOT have a happy ending and it’s especially hard to read, knowing this and seeing her joyful optimism for the end of the war, having a normal life and realising her dreams of becoming a writer. This leads me onto the second point – Anne is quite obviously a hugely talented writer. Her diary entries are succinct, empowering, beautiful, raw and so very authentic and it’s devastating to think of what she could have done in her life if she had been given the chance to see the end of the war and become an adult. Even writing about it now makes me feel so emotional and it’s definitely a book I’ll be re-visiting in the future, it’s too important not to.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Gender Games: The Problem With Men And Women, From Someone Who Has Been Both – Juno Dawson

Published August 29, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Why we are all being messed up by gender, and what we can do about it.

‘It’s a boy!’ or ‘It’s a girl!’ are the first words almost all of us hear when we enter the world. Before our names, before we have likes and dislikes – before we, or anyone else, has any idea who we are. And two years ago, as Juno Dawson went to tell her mother she was (and actually, always had been) a woman, she started to realise just how wrong we’ve been getting it.

Gender isn’t just screwing over trans people, it’s messing with everyone. From little girls who think they can’t be doctors to teenagers who come to expect street harassment. From exclusionist feminists to ‘alt-right’ young men. From men who can’t cry to the women who think they shouldn’t. As her body gets in line with her mind, Juno tells not only her own story, but the story of everyone who is shaped by society’s expectations of gender – and what we can do about it.

Featuring insights from well-known gender, feminist and trans activists including Rebecca Root, Laura Bates, Gemma Cairney, Anthony Anaxagorou, Hannah Witton, Alaska Thunderfuck and many more, The Gender Games is a frank, witty and powerful manifesto for a world where what’s in your head is more important than what’s between your legs.

What did I think?:

Disclaimer: As a white, straight woman I realise I have no clue about what a transgender person has gone through in their lives but guess what? Juno Dawson has written this informative, sassy and incredibly thoughtful piece of non-fiction for EVERYONE, no matter what your sexuality or gender. It’s so very accessible and educational but one of my favourite parts about it was the parts of British pop culture that she examined in this frank, raw and hilarious memoir. I was taken back to my own adolescence with tales of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Spice Girls, Strictly Come Dancing, Carrie….I could go on. It was reminiscent for me of more innocent times, before social media became such a “thing” and a troll was just something under a bridge in a fairy story.

Juno Dawson, author of The Gender Games.

The Gender Games is a no holds barred account of Juno’s life, from being raised a male called James and believing she was a homosexual man to realising that all the confusion she held from a very young age stemmed from the fact that she was actually born in the wrong body and should have been a woman. Everything started to slot into place and a lot was explained for Juno but of course, this didn’t make her journey any easier now the puzzle was complete. In fact, her journey was just beginning because now she made the decision to transition into becoming a woman, tell her friends and family and being a public figure and a well known YA author, face the public. Juno had already come across prejudice and bigotry in her life through being a homosexual man, which although more acceptable in modern society is unfortunately still tantamount to a wave of bad attitudes, misunderstandings, taunts and bullying. The Gender Games is not only her story but a story for all of us about identity, gender stereotyping, sexism, rape culture, feminism, race and how it feels when you finally find out who you are as a person and start to learn to love yourself, as Colin Firth might say in Juno’s beloved Bridget Jones’ Diary “just as you are.”

I think I’ve already made clear my own personal views on people who are transgender in other reviews in that I’m aware it’s a very real, very traumatic and confusing experience especially for young children who don’t feel as if they belong in their own body. As I’ve mentioned, I’m never going to be able to fully realise what this is like but I’m willing and happy to be educated about it. Juno spins an absolutely fascinating account of her life that explores gender and all its foibles and it certainly made me think hard about my own subconscious gender stereotypes and make a concerted effort to be more aware of bias in the future. I was completely delighted to discover that this book also delves into other areas, like feminism across the different races which again, was absorbing to read about and initiated a few moments where I had to simply put the book down and think about things a bit deeper for a little while.

Throughout it all, Juno maintains a dry wit and sarcastic edge to her stories but is completely aware of the moments when she’s talking about more controversial or horrific subjects and is fully sensitive and serious about these issues. I feel like out of all the books she’s brought out, this must have been the book she was most nervous about because as a reader, it felt like she laid her soul completely bare for everyone else to read about. I found her story courageous and her personality so humble and down to earth that it was an absolute joy to find out more about her and from the bottom of my heart, I wish her the very best in her ongoing journey to discover herself. This is an empowering and important non-fiction read that I wouldn’t hesitate to push into the hands of everyone I meet so they might be able to learn a little something just like I did whilst reading this fantastic book.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading – Lucy Mangan

Published April 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were everything. They opened up new worlds and cast light on all the complexities she encountered in this one.

She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. She wandered the countryside with Milly-Molly-Mandy, and played by the tracks with the Railway Children. With Charlotte’s Web she discovered Death and with Judy Blume it was Boys. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library or to spend her pocket money on amassing her own at home.

In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.

Lucy brings the favourite characters of our collective childhoods back to life – prompting endless re-readings, rediscoveries, and, inevitably, fierce debate – and brilliantly uses them to tell her own story, that of a born, and unrepentant, bookworm.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, what could be better than a book about books? My boyfriend got me this book as a gift and as a loud and proud bookworm, he couldn’t have got me anything better. Seriously, this must be how some girls feel when they’re given jewellery? Lucy Mangan’s thorough exploration of her childhood reading is beautifully nostalgic and warmed my heart. We hear small parts of Lucy’s own life but unlike other memoirs, as the title suggests, this book is focused purely on how different books have shaped the author’s life. As a bookish, rather solitary child myself, I nodded along with almost everything the author described. For example, the joys of being sent to your room as a punishment – hey, more time alone to read right? Or the delights of reading under your cover with a torch when you’re supposed to be sleeping, which made me very tired the next morning at school but strangely satisfied as I managed to finish the book I was reading!

From the delights of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Lucy takes us through books that meant something to her as a child and how they changed her as a person. Lucy is slightly older than me by six years so some of the books I wasn’t instantly familiar with but I had a bundle of fun researching them on Google, especially when she mentioned illustrators like Edmund Evans and Maurice Sendak. However, the cockles of my heart were well and truly warmed when she mentioned my own childhood favourites like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles Of Narnia, the master that is Roald Dahl, the heart-break of Charlotte’s Web, the goddess of adventure stories that is Enid Blyton and of course, my own personal heroine, Judy Blume. Helpfully, the author also provides a complete list of all the books she mentions in the appendix and I have to admit to adding quite a few to my wish-list!

Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading is a gorgeous, evocative read that will have you remembering the books that really made an impression on you when you were younger and leave you with a wistful urge to re-read them all over again. The only reason I’m not giving it a higher rating is that there were a few books that I didn’t know and so didn’t quite feel the same connection with as others. However, this is a fantastic journey back in time that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly anticipate reading again in the future next time I need a trip down memory lane. The style of Lucy Mangan’s writing really invites you in and makes you feel like you’re having a chat with a good friend about the favourite topic of any bookworm of course – BOOKS. I’ve got that fuzzy, gooey feeling all over again just talking about this book!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Banned Books 2016 – OCTOBER READ – The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Published October 31, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing–a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

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Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to our tenth banned book of 2016! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of 2016…

NOVEMBER- Gossip Girl- Cecily Von Ziegesar

DECEMBER – My Sister’s Keeper- Jodi Picoult

But back to this month….

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

First published: 2005

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2012 (source)

Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: As one of the more fairly recent releases for our banned books list this year, answers for the first two questions are going to be similar as I don’t think attitudes have changed that much in the last ten or so years. There are a few profanities in the text with one mention of the “c” word which I know some people may not take too kindly to. However, I feel that no matter where you go or what you try to avoid, you cannot help but hear bad language, whether it’s in the street or on the television. If you’re offended by bad language, fair enough that’s your own personal right and you can choose to read this book or not. In my opinion, it’s not completely littered with profanity so I was perfectly happy whilst reading it. 

CHRISSI: It does have some offensive language, I know the ‘c’ word certainly offends me, but when used in this book it didn’t bother me so much because it was the reality of the situation. It didn’t prevent me from reading this book, it just made me cringe a little. That’s fine. That’s real. I can see that its heavy subject matter might be too much for teenagers but moving into YA and adult, I don’t think it’s something that should be necessarily banned. As Beth says, you can hear much worse on TV, around friends and with music.

How about now?

BETH: See first answer! This book is not marketed as a young adult novel. In fact, it is on the “adult” category of GoodReads. This may be down to the occasional bad language, sexual references or some of the more adult content that it contains. The subject matter that this novel deals with is difficult and was, at times, hard to read for me but I’m incredibly glad that I did because I found it a wonderful, highly emotional piece of writing. I can’t really think of any hard and fast reasons why it should be challenged/banned and think a memoir of this standard deserves to be read.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I don’t think it should be necessarily challenged or banned as I think it’s a highly important read. Perhaps, if in a high school/college library it should have a notice for explicit content, but an outright ban? No I wouldn’t agree with that.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I thought it was a brilliant read! The fact that it is a memoir just made Jeannette’s difficult upbringing with her family all the more poignant and a little chilling in places if I’m honest. I felt so sorry for Jeannette and her brother and sisters being brought up in such an environment, moving from place to place, sleeping in cars and rooting through rubbish bins just to find something to eat. It’s a life that no child should have to experience and really made me think about people that are less fortunate and don’t have the blessing of a stable home/family.

CHRISSI: I was utterly gripped by this book. I couldn’t put it down, but at the same time, I wanted to because it was such an intense read. It was tough to read about what Jeannette and her siblings went through. It made me realise how lucky I was to have the upbringing that I did. It certainly kept me thinking and I imagine this book will stay with me for a long time.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’S personal star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Join us again on the last Monday of November when we will be discussing Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar.

Talking About The Last Act Of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink with Chrissi Reads

Published September 7, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In the summer of 1990 – two weeks before his GCSE results, which turned out to be the best in his school – Cathy Rentzenbrink’s brother Matty was knocked down by a car on the way home from a night out, suffering serious head injuries. He was left in a permanent vegetative state. Over the following years, Cathy and her parents took care of Matty – they built an extension onto the village pub where they lived and worked; they talked to him, fed him, bathed him, loved him. But there came a point at which it seemed the best thing they could do for Matty – and for themselves – was let him go. With unflinching honesty and raw emotional power, Cathy describes the unimaginable pain of losing her brother and the decision that changed her family’s lives forever. As she delves into the past and reclaims memories that have lain buried for many years, Cathy reconnects with the bright, funny, adoring brother she lost and is finally able to see the end of his life as it really was – a last act of love. Powerful, intimate and intensely moving, this is a personal journey with universal resonance – a story of unconditional love, of grief, survival and the strength of the ties that bind. It’s a story that will speak to anyone who has lost someone close to them, to anyone who has fiercely loved a sibling, and to anyone who has ever wondered whether prolonging a loved one’s life might be more heartbreaking than saying goodbye.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: How would you describe the experience of reading non fiction vs fiction?

BETH: Great question! A lot of the times I really feel it depends on the subject matter and the non fiction book in question. Sometimes it can be a bit dry but other times it can be written in a way that is just as compelling as reading a piece of fiction. This was definitely the case with The Last Act Of Love. It was quite literally a page turner and I managed to read it within a day as I just couldn’t put it down. It was terribly sad and at times almost unbearable to read but I’m infinitely glad that I did.

BETH: This is a harrowing story but ultimately uplifting. How did you feel when you reached the end of the book?

CHRISSI: I’m not a major fan of non fiction, as you know, but this book completely pulled me in. You’re right, it was such a harrowing story but it really was uplifting and I think that’s down to the fact that you can tell, as a reader, how much love was felt for Matt. His family really adored him and it was plain to see that. I loved that we got to read more about how the tragic event affected Cathy long after the accident. It was heart-warming to read Cathy’s letter to her brother at the end of the book. This book was an act of love in itself, as Cathy rawly and honestly opens up and it’s a beautiful thing. I felt incredibly moved by the end of the book.

CHRISSI: What does this book tell us about the nature of love?

BETH: Quite a lot. Love comes in many forms but is especially strong in a parent-child or sibling relationship. Obviously when Matt first had his accident, the family cannot bear for him to die so do everything possible in their power to try and prevent this, even taking him out of the hospital environment and learning how to care for him at home. However, after many years when he remains in a persistent vegetative state, they realise that they may be making it more difficult for him than just being strong enough to let him go. Their last act of love is making the hugely difficult decision to let him pass away but it’s not a decision they take lightly.

BETH: You’re not normally a fan of non fiction – what was it about The Last Act Of Love that touched you so deeply?

CHRISSI: I  am definitely not a fan of non fiction, but memoirs have always been the kind of non fiction that I do enjoy reading. I enjoy raw honesty even if it’s hard to read at times. I really felt that Cathy laid herself bare with this memoir. As I mentioned before, it was an act of love in itself writing this memoir. I really feel like Cathy had the most wonderful relationship with her brother and that relationship did touch me deeply.

CHRISSI: Did reading this book, knowing it was a memoir, affect your emotions more?

BETH: One hundred percent. Knowing that all of this really happened and that the family suffered for so long made it all the more traumatic. It must have been a very hard book for his sister to write, although it seemed that she got so much out of this process. I feel honoured as a reader that she chose to share her experiences with the world and really hope that she can come to terms with what has happened in time. Such an emotional read!

BETH: Would you read another book by this author fiction or otherwise?

CHRISSI: Yes, I would. I thought Cathy had a very engaging writing style. This book, despite it being so very sad, was such a page turner!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Without a doubt!

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

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CHRISSI’s star rating (out of 5):

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