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Who cannot adore this author? There is something positively genius about her work.
Sheer brilliance. I feel fully entitled to conclude this about Harvey as a writer and not only about this novel: I have read all (three) of her works in what turns out to be reverse order. I’ve travelled from a brilliance that prooves to have been consolidated all along in a miraculous constellation of its own unique making.
Let’s begin by glorifying the musicality and colour of the prose, when the author describes some cool shade with “The overhang of trees sieves the light of its heat”. But quickly add: there is never a hint of pretentiousness or cleverness. She has a magic touch. Her writing seems effortless. It is so well composed that it is easy to read; but take a closer look and discover that every word has been picked (or picked out) carefully. Phrases are placed (or left to lie) on their merit for maturing with each reading. There has to be an angel on her shoulder while she writes: one of those who don’t shy away from reality and want man to figure it out for himself, but who also knows we need to become ardently inspired if we are to succeed.
The smallest cherry or leaf becomes a carrier of my universe which is a fragile memory bubble. When the death of the brain pops this world , does it blow me away too?
This invitation to explore such complex matter is never given to us in a lecture, proseletysed, or stuffed into a theory expounded by any character. The sense of space is created by shifts of focus without any quirky sylistic features. There is a yogic skill in the balance of stretch and flex. tension and dapple play of tenses. There are no lists to persuade, no descriptions to show-off vocabulary, and only a few casual quotes to reference the wilderness as it - once upon a time - was a state of being that was not yet; before it became a piece of land, or just a name for no-man’s land.
Where the book becomes repetitious (and you didn’t even really notice it at first!) you will have become melded to the protagonist Jake. You will experience his harrowing illness and travel ever deeper with him into this hell that is now and now and now…..seemingly the ideal Zen modus, but in actual fact the torture of an inverse mindfulness: mindemptiness. Without the continuity and affinity, perspective and context that is the thinking, feeling, willing I, one cannot even find the wilderness. Here at least we can discover what it means to be alive.
Traversing the wilderness is easy compared to stranding in it. The subtle central question I derived from the book haunts me continuoulsy: if the meaning of life is to cultivate your own garden, what to live for when I can’t mean anything? Then again, am I, in the end, not always dependent on what others remember of/for me? Only, I need my wits about me to remind myself of that!
Where do I go when Alzheimer takes me? The gaps are abysses; the presence of the unknown (nearly everyone and everything) stifling. Samantha Harvey manages to render this oppressive dead-end nightmare so tangible by offering a view out into vastness (the wilderness) at every turn of the corner, till the contrast makes you as dizzy as it does Jake.
As far as I can make out, Samantha Harvey seems extremely well read in metaphysics, and world religion in general, and notably eastern philosophy (see third book), and I suspect that she studies the Alzheimer’s patient’s inner reality to lead us not into greater dejection for the hopelessness of this dreadful illness, but to touch upon much larger themes of consciousness and identity, individuality and the potential for a spiritual nature underlying all meaningfulness in life.
Samantha Harvey here has practically written a modern myth. Aren't we all a kind of mini-Moses, as we go in search of a place to belong, where we might mean something to someone?
The writer remains humble and never tries to do anything lavish or grand; she presents merely a book of questions with very few question marks.
As casually as a kitten she tangles up the ball of neatly rolled up reality into the unravelled, matted experience it becomes as we age.
The book is so mellifluous and compelling to read, that I am left with the sense that I have been touched by a master. I await her next novel as a prophecy. That’s how great I think Samantha Harvey is!
It is difficult to review and grade this book, as I can see that it is cleverly constructed and perfectly illustrates the gradual demise and sense of confusion as Jake loses himself to dementia. On the other hand, it was very slow and I heaved a sigh of relief when I finally got to the end.
I was listening to an unabridged audiobook, somewhat tediously read, in a rather monotone drone. However, the fact that it was audio, and therefore much harder to backtrack when I got lost, actually added to the whole confused air of the novel. When Jake was trying to recall the word for something, if I couldn't find the word immediately, the narrator continued without me, leaving me feeling as if I was suffering the same loss.
Some of Jake's memories are facts, some, we learn towards the end, are false memories.
In his time he had been a capable architect, he had a son, Henry, now in the prison that he, himself had designed. His wife, Helen, has died and there is a daughter, Alice. He is currently married to his childhood friend, Eleanor, who "has waited 30 years for him, only to find he is lost" (quoted from memory as I do not have a written version.)
There are some clever themes that keep reappearing, the colour yellow, the sound of a gun shot and various references to cherry trees, cherries and falling blossom. Unfortunately my admiration for clever writing is not sufficient when I find a book too long and drawn out and am considering abandoning it as I stubbornly keep listening.
More fool me!
Other books I have read with a theme of Atzheimer's:
Still Alice by Lisa Genova (5 stars)
Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham (5 stars)
Tackling the unusual subject of a man's battle with Alzheimer's in a sympathetic and believable way, this is a complex book that requires maximum concentration throughout, but in the end it is more than worth it. The topic is lovingly handled, Barrett's narration is the most convincing I have heard, and the 'reader' can not help but find their perceptions of this debilitating disease have been challenged as a result.
If you're after thrill-a-minute action and suspense, this story is not for you. If you are after something thought-provoking, moving and challenging, this book is worth every cent. It is the kind of book I may well play all over again, just to go back through the early chapters from a position of having heard the whole story, as I am sure there would be much that I missed. Not many books make you want to do that.
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