This is a book of sadness which manages to convey real happiness as well. It's a book about death which becomes a book about life.
Ian Clayton is unflinching and honest about our deepest human experience. What happened to Billie could have had happened to any of us - an accident out of the blue with no justice and no explanation. Most of us would despair, become self-pitying or find shallow comfort in religion or drink. Ian, Heather and Edward don't do any of these things. Instead they draw on the warmth of their connection to each other, and to Featherstone, the town where they live, to sustain them in the importance of looking life and death squarely in the eye and asserting the value of humanity.
The book sets out to celebrate the wonderful qualities of Billie's `almost ten' years and it achieves that. It also succeeds, perhaps more that the author himself realises, in conveying the qualities of Ian, of Heather, his partner, and Edward, their son. They don't turn bitter because of what happens to them, they don't even blame the inexperienced guys who rented them the canoe. One of the best written sections of the book details the inquest and the way ordinary human beings are caught up in the bewildering and frightening processes of law. In the middle of the tension, the intrusion of the press and the confusion of real purpose, Ian and Heather are still able to see a connection between themselves and the two men who could feel that they were on trial. This whole scene is set in a deep historical context when Ian links it to the 1893 inquest in Featherstone into the shooting of two miners by the police.
The book is full of unexpected insight and wonderful characters - I loved the section where the family get to visit friends in Serbia who once lived in Featherstone. If you are grieving for someone close, forget the self-help books and read this book instead. And if you're not, you will still find this book a tonic - it will make you feel better about the world that such people live - and have lived - in it.