All posts tagged cancer

The Owl At The Window – Carl Gorham

Published June 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘She is dead. She was here just now and she was alive. How can she suddenly be dead? People in history are dead. Old people are dead. Grandparents are dead. Other people are dead. Not people like me. Not this person. The person I was married to. Had a child with. Not the person who was standing next to me. Chatting. Laughing. Being.’

Shock is just one of many emotions explored in award-winning TV comedy writer Carl Gorham’s account of his bereavement which is by turns deeply moving and darkly humorous.

Part love story, part widower’s diary, part tales of single parenting, it tells of his wife’s cancer, her premature death and his attempts to rebuild his life afterwards with his six -year old daughter.

Realised in a series of vivid snapshots, it takes the reader on an extraordinary journey from Oxford to Australia, from Norfolk to Hong Kong through fear, despair, pain and anger to hope, laughter and renewal.

The Owl at the Window is a fresh and original exploration of what it means to lose a partner in your forties, and how Carl learned to live again.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Coronet publishers via Book Bridgr for sending me a copy of this moving memoir of grief and loss in exchange for an honest review. I’m usually quite tentative about reading books like this as I seem to have become a more emotional reader over the last few years with stories like this affecting me more and more each time I read one. I’ve had my own personal experiences with loss and I was concerned that I would find it quite difficult to read, comparing it with my own situation, but as soon as I read the synopsis I knew I had to give it a chance.

You may be familiar with Carl Gorham as the creator of the cult animated show Stressed Eric which was shown on BBC 2 here in the UK and he has also written many sketches for radio and television and adapted the well loved children’s books Meg and Mog for ITV. What I hadn’t realised about Carl was the struggles he has been through as a widower and single parent when he sadly lost his wife, Vikki to a long and torturous battle with cancer. This book was told is such a delicate, gentle and occasionally quite humorous way in alternating chapters where Carl talks about his life with Vikki from their first meeting, the early days of their marriage and the adventures they went on all over the world to the present day and how he and their daughter are coping right now with the sorrow of her passing.

It’s almost guaranteed, this book is going to be heart-breaking. However, I was surprised at points by how uplifted and hopeful it made me feel. Carl is unashamedly real and raw about his feelings which I greatly appreciated but at the same time he realises that he has a responsibility to his daughter to carry on and accept the future, (despite it being not at all what they had hoped and dreamed of) for the good of both of them. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him for the way he deals with his wife’s death and continues to raise their daughter with honour and deep love for what they both created as a couple. Of course, it’s unbelievably sad and the addition of photographs, although lovely to see, reminds the reader that we are dealing with real lives and very real tragedy that someone has had to go through. I really hope the process of writing this book was therapeutic and helpful for Carl and I want to thank him for sharing it with the world, I’m certain it will help other people going through the same thing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Short Stories Challenge – What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published January 6, 2017 by bibliobeth


What’s What We Save all about?:

The penultimate story in Julie Orringer’s marvellous short story collection focuses on two sisters who visit Disneyland in Florida with their mother who is suffering from cancer.

What did I think?:

I’ve really fallen in love with some of the characters and the stories in this collection. Hard-hitting, poignant, heart-breaking and often about difficult subjects, a lot of the stories are not exactly what I would call cheery reading but they definitely touch something inside of you as you read them. What We Save is another classic example of a family in turmoil, trying to make each day count as they spend a day out in the land of make believe, Disneyland, Orlando.

We are instantly placed into the perspective of a young girl of 14, Helena who also has a younger sister, Margot. They are on their way to Disneyland to meet up with their mother’s old high school sweetheart and his family to spend a magical day. All Helena can worry about is her mother, Nancy though and how she is feeling. We guess pretty early on that Nancy is seriously unwell, probably cancer when she is described as wearing a wig but it is confirmed fairly swiftly. We also get a sense of how strongly the mother feels about her old flame, Brian and how important today is for her, especially as she seems to have something she wants to hand over, something she has saved for many years.

This idea of her mother handing over something so treasured to her devastates Helena as she worries that this may be a sign that her mother is finally giving up and letting cancer win. However, this is not her only worry of the day. During one of the rides (Space Mountain for Disney fans), something happens to Helena that robs her of all her childhood innocence and suggests that she may finally have entered the scary, sometimes tragic world of being an adult.

This story was so touching and you can probably guess, quite hard to read at times. I’m lucky enough not to have had any of my close family succumb to cancer at this time but there’s been a scare both with myself and another person. I remember how terrifying even the thought of the deadly “C” felt so I can’t imagine how people who have actually lost their loved ones would feel reading this. However, I did also like that it was not just about cancer, it was about Helena and what she goes through at Disneyland. In a way, she loses something forever that can’t be returned and I believe this connects with fearing the potential loss of her mother which makes the experience all the more scary. I’m a bit sad that there is only one more story to go in this brilliant awe-inspiring collection, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and, for a debut collection, it’s truly an amazing piece of work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge – Charm For A Friend With A Lump by Helen Simpson from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published April 18, 2016 by bibliobeth


What’s Charm For A Friend With A Lump all about?:

This story is written from the perspective of someone whose friend has recently discovered a suspicious lump somewhere on her body. She encourages her friend not to lose hope and promises she will always be at her side.

What did I think?:

I haven’t read anything by Helen Simpson before although I am aware of her writing, having been named one of Granta’s twenty Best of Young British Novelists in 1993. As I’ve mentioned before in previous stories in this collection, the stories are divided into sections and Charm For A Friend With A Lump fits quite neatly into the category – “Stories to read when it’s all going wrong.” As you can probably tell from the title of the story alone, it’s not the easiest of subjects to read about but I was surprised by how uplifting and generally positive both the message and the writing was.

Our narrator for the story is speaking to her friend who has discovered a lump on her body but as yet, does not have any further medical information about whether it is malignant so the big “C” is still very much unknown. At just over three pages long, the author manages to get across exactly what she wants to say and some parts were incredibly poignant that left me with quite a sad smile on my face. The narrator attempts to take her friends mind off the terror of the unknown by asking for her help in what she should plant in her garden this year and then in alternate paragraphs she reassures and comforts her, leaving the reader in no doubt as to the ferocity of her dedication and love. Some parts of the narrative were so beautiful I just had to include them below and to be honest, it was hard knowing when to end the quote, it all seemed important and terribly sad:

“Nobody in their right mind looks at an old oak tree growing in strength and richness and thinks, you’ll be dead soon. They just admire and draw strength from its example. May you keep your hair on and your eyebrows in place. May you never have to wear a hat indoors. May you and your other half tuck two centuries under your belts between you, and then, like the old couple in the tale, when some kind god in disguise grants you a wish may you go together, hand in hand, in an instant.”

There’s so much more I want to re-quote but then I would be in danger of quoting the entire story and being so short, it’s something you should definitely discover for yourself. It’s a wonderful few pages of love, strength and hope for the future from a person we could only dream of having as our support if god forbid, the worst should ever happen. I really enjoyed the way the author used the imagery of plants to represent the force and fragility of nature – the strong oak tree in the above quote compared to the nasty “ruthless invader and ignorer of boundaries” Japanese Knotweed which illustrates beautifully the relentless attack of cancer. Throughout it all, our narrator is eternally optimistic and ensures her friend that she will be there for her no matter what the outcome. Just lovely!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Paranoid: A Chant by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Talking about The Last Days Of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin with Chrissi

Published March 4, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Here is a truth that can’t be escaped: for Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes, life is coming to an end . . .

Rabbit Hayes loves her life, ordinary as it is, and the extraordinary people in it.

She loves her spirited daughter, Juliet; her colourful, unruly family; the only man in her big heart, Johnny Faye.

But it turns out the world has other plans for Rabbit, and she’s OK with that. Because she has plans for the world too, and only a handful of days left to make them happen.

Here is a truth that won’t be forgotten: this is a story about laughing through life’s surprises and finding the joy in every moment.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: The novel is all about family – discuss the relationships between family members and with Rabbit.
BETH: Rabbit appears to be at the core of the whole family unit and so when she is diagnosed with cancer and especially when the cancer comes back and she is told it is terminal, the family looks like it might fall apart. She is very close to both her father and mother – I especially loved Molly, a very strong, funny and independent Irish character who is trying not to let the rest of the family know that she is breaking inside and is attempting to be there for not only the rest of her family but for her dying daughter – a huge feat. Rabbit has also had periods during her life where she has been closer and more distant from her brother and sister, Davey and Grace but at the time of her illness, she finds the old closeness once again and the entire family becomes a force to be reckoned with.
BETH: Who was your favourite character in the novel and why?
CHRISSI: Ooh, Beth that’s a tricky question! There are so many characters in this story. I really enjoyed reading about many of them. I think one of my favourites has to be Davey though. His love for his niece was adorable. I loved that he was willing to change his lifestyle in order to care for his niece. Aw. ❤
CHRISSI: What do you make of the blog posts used throughout? Would you have liked to have seen more of them?
BETH: I was actually a bit surprised that more wasn’t made of the blog posts, there seemed to be very few of them. In them, Rabbit talks about the time when she was first diagnosed with cancer and the way she feels when the cancer returns. We do hear a little about her feelings at the present time when she is moved into the hospice but other chapters when written from her point of view focused mainly on the past and the love of her life, Johnny as she evaluates her life so far. I would have loved to see more blog posts but I think I understand why the author didn’t expand these – there was already so much going on in the novel and a number of different characters who all needed to be explored.
BETH: Juliet is with her mother until the end, and helps care for her when she is sick. What effect do you think being with a parent at such a harrowing time can have? Was it better for Juliet to be with Rabbit at the end?
CHRISSI: I really felt for Juliet. I think it must be so tough for children to go through caring for a sick relative. I imagine it’s hard enough for an adult, but when you think about young carers and the emotional turmoil they have to go through…it breaks my heart. At the same time though, I think for Juliet’s peace of mind she had to do everything she could for her mum and spend the time she did have with her.
CHRISSI: Talk about the ending of the novel – how did it make you feel?
BETH: From the beginning of the novel we know that Rabbit Hayes has terminal cancer in a number of different places in her body including her bones so the ending was never going to be a walk in the park. I was one hundred percent convinced I would leave the novel feeling incredibly depressed. What I was surprised about was how uplifted I also felt. The author uses humour very well to make the best job of a bad situation and I think it worked beautifully with this particular story. By the end, we don’t feel that Rabbit is leaving her family forever, she’s just going on a different journey and will see them at some point later on.
BETH: Molly puts her foot in it many times, but always makes Rabbit laugh. Is laughter the best medicine?
CHRISSI: I think it can be. Of course, it doesn’t always cure everything, but having a good laugh can make you feel better. I also think that this book needed some humour within it, otherwise it would have been incredibly depressing. It’s not an easy subject to tackle or read about, but Anna McPartlin cleverly weaved in the humour amongst the sadness.
CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its genre?
BETH: There are a lot of novels similar to this out in the world and I think it sits very comfortably in its own genre, even surpassing some. The author creates such wonderful characters in a family everyone would love to be a part of and I think the combination of such authentic people you can really believe in, humour and misery and a take-home message of love and support for your nearest and dearest makes this novel a joy to read and one I will remember for a while.
BETH: Would you read another book by this author?
CHRISSI: Yes. Much like you mention in the question above, I think the author has surpassed others in the genre. I found her writing incredibly easy to read.
Would WE recommend it?:
BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Of course!
BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):
CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):