Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Five titles for the grieving

Sally Oliver earned a master’s in English at Lancaster University before moving to London to start a career in publishing. She now works for the agency Greene & Heaton. Garden of Earthly Bodies (UK title: The Weight of Loss) is her debut novel.

At Lit Hub Oliver tagged five books that "touch upon grief and mourning in ways that really affected me," including:
Anita Brookner, A Start in Life

The heroines in Brookner’s novels are often burdened by their sickly, aging relatives. In A Start in Life, the protagonist, Ruth Weiss, doesn’t feel that she can fully exist until she moves away from home and gives up her obligations to her family, yet the guilt of abandoning them keeps her trapped there. Her mother, Helen, is vain and self-absorbed, but she’s physically frail and frightened of becoming irrelevant. Ruth’s father is a delicate man who hasn’t learned to look after himself or his wife. What I love about Brookner’s writing is that she manages to provoke such sadness when you least expect it, and for characters you think you despise. There is a death towards the end of the book that is heartbreaking because of the conflict that precedes it.

Ruth knows she is about to lose this person just before they slip away—in a very humiliating, undignified context—without feeling that she is grown up enough to handle the situation. The death itself is characterized by exhaustion and defeat. It is one of the most moving descriptions of just giving in to death, of finding no strength—and, crucially, no desire—left to sustain oneself that I have ever come across. It almost seems like the character dies through a sudden crash in self-confidence. Brookner loves returning to the concept of will, the sheer force of personality, which is as essential to existence as the heart beating in our bodies. In this moment, that willpower has finally run out and Ruth cannot bear to witness the evidence.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue