There is always one. You know, the one who has to ‘deal’ with it. Whatever it is. Usually something of critical importance. Like being the one to sit with an aging or ill relative, or the one who has to make a decision to put an aging parent in a nursing home, or, ‘take care’ of the mistakes made by others. And no matter how many siblings there are… there is usually just the one that steps up and shoulders the responsibilities – the hard things, such as “Listening to the clock tick away the life of someone they love”.
“There is a language to dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy. It is a secret hushed thing that lives in the whisper of the nurses’ skirts as they rustle up and down our stairs. They’ve taught me to face the language one syllable at a time, slowing creating an unwilling meaning.”
In Sarah Pinborough’s beautifully written novel, “The language of dying“, the one who does the hard stuff is the middle child of five. They are an extremely dysfunctional family. Their mother left when the children were still quite young, leaving the father to bring them up the best he could.
The eldest brother is Paul. A veteran of several business blunders, divorced, and in his late forties, he is still finding his way in the world. Then comes Penny, the seemingly well-adjusted eldest daughter. Penny has a ‘glow’. A trait that makes her attractive and accepted by all. Though her ‘glow’ makes her life easier, it does not prepare her to deal with the harder things in life. Penny and Paul have always been close.
Then the twins, the youngest two sons of the family. Davey, the paranoid schizophrenic, and Simon, the junkie. Always close, the twins feed off each other.
“The world outside the house no longer exists.
Not for a little while anyway.”
And, smack in the middle, is our story’s protagonist. She has survived an abusive marriage and left her horrid husband to buy back her childhood home in Surrey. It is there that her father returns to die. She keeps a vigil at his bedside, and performs tasks that no child should have to perform for a parent. Is it her horrible experiences that have made her so strong? Or, is it not strength at all… just kismet. She is a broken woman. Her world has shrunken. She suffers an increasingly dark depression. Her mind drifts… She recalls her failed marriage. She recalls how she felt when she was married…
“I think I can mend him. This is my mistake because he’s not broken, he’s just been put together wrong.”
As the days of her father’s life near their end, she realizes that without him, her family will slowly unravel. The family all come home to say goodbye to their father, but they all in their individual ways, find it beyond them. They leave the house one by one. She is the only one left to hold vigil. She looks back on the memories, both good and bad. The trivialities, the regrets. She is the one to wonder what her father is thinking about as he slips away…
Told in the first person, with honesty and, at times gut-wrenching emotion, this novella will resonate with anyone who has ever had to deal with the sadness and emotional overload that comes along with losing someone they love. Although the subject matter is bleak, the writing is powerful and lifts the book to a level that will haunt the reader for years to come. Highly recommended.
Sarah Pinborough is an award-winning author of more than 20 books for both adults and teen readers. She has also written for the BBC as a screenwriter and has several original television projects in development. She currently lives and writes in London and is contemplating a puppy.