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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching, funny and wise
I thought this was an excellent book. The story is a "much fictionalised" (the author's words) account of Alex Shearer's experience of the death of his brother. It sounds grim, but it isn't - I found it very readable, extremely funny at times and very, thoughtful and wise. There is a very narrow path to tread in a book like this between flippancy on the one hand and...
Published 4 months ago by Sid Nuncius

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1.0 out of 5 stars Not to my taste, Sorry
I personally could not get into this book. I appreciate the good reviews for it but I found it very difficult to read. The character build up is insufficient enough to make me care about the characters and I just did not want to read it. The writing style is very 'bitty' and haphazard which also put me off. I appreciate death and illness are difficult topics to write...
Published 9 days ago by Claire, Lulu


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching, funny and wise, 2 April 2014
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 10 REVIEWER)    (No. 1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
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I thought this was an excellent book. The story is a "much fictionalised" (the author's words) account of Alex Shearer's experience of the death of his brother. It sounds grim, but it isn't - I found it very readable, extremely funny at times and very, thoughtful and wise. There is a very narrow path to tread in a book like this between flippancy on the one hand and mawkish sentimentality on the other, but Shearer never puts a foot wrong, I think. I have had more experience of watching family members die of cancer than anyone really ought, and this is one of the most enjoyable and most insightful things I have read about it.

The story is a simple one. The narrator flies out from Britain to Brisbane where his brother, whom he has not seen for many years, has a brain tumour and is in the last stages of life. It doesn't sound like much of a plot, but I found it very gripping. What makes this so good is that Shearer writes very well in an easy but deceptively profound way, and he captures so many aspects of a death like this with a light touch but genuine insight. I laughed out loud several times, and often nodded in recognition of both how people behave and at the narrator's own thoughts. Shearer catches brilliantly some of those things which take you off guard - that terminal illness doesn't mean people's annoying traits go away, for example, or that the situation can be infuriating, hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time. He has some lovely, humane interludes of the narrator just mulling things over and also some very sharp, pithy lines like "hospitals are no place for the sick and vulnerable."

Shearer neatly presents the behaviour and attitudes of others to the illness, too. It's never heavy-handed or preachy, but we see the small, important kindnesses in some people and the self-obsession of others. Also, those people who "know, I just know" that he'll get better, that he can "fight" this, that he got a brain tumour by thinking the wrong sort of thoughts and all the other things people say, often with good intentions and very seldom with intent to hurt, but which are unhelpful and sometimes hurtful nonetheless. People often simply don't know what to do in the face of impending death, and Shearer paints very neat sketches of some of the ways in which people try to deal with it (or run away from it).

I could go on, but I won't. I really think this is an exceptionally good book, written with wit, compassion and humanity. It's a very easy read and a very rewarding one. It is touching, funny and wise; I recommend it warmly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is the life., 14 Mar 2014
By 
the lambanana "the lambanana" (liverpool) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
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The rather well written story of the last few months of a brother's life.

It comes to us all death and in this particular book the death is of a young man and the impact upon his brother.

It does have some humour but overall it's not an uplifting or heart-warming story.

It is possible to consume it in one sitting, but it left me a little sad overall.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Depressing, enchanting., 16 Feb 2014
By 
Book Critic (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
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"Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, maybe one of these days soon, when the world is quiet again, you might understand what it is you need to understand. But really, you know you never will. And you'll be baffled until the day you die. And even then you might never find out. You're like an ant crawling over a manuscript. You aren't even aware the words are there, let alone able to read them."
This is the Life is an ode to a dead brother - based a real one, as detailed in the epilogue: The origins of This is the Life.
Louis, the brother, is not an easy man to live with and never was, not from childhood; a man gifted with many talents, but lacking the most important one: how to cope with life. His less talented but more capable brother, who has always had to pick up the pieces left in Louis wake, flies to Australia to care for Louis, who is dying from a brain tumour. He finds a man living in a self-created chaos of bad choices and ruined relationships, filth, vermin and non-functioning white goods. In the midst of the mess he has made of his life, Louis remains exasperating, maddening, still loveable.
It's a heartbreaking tale. It's not an easy read, but it is beautifully written. The dirty, dreary everyday misery is interspersed with quiet musings on the pointlessness of life and death and dying. Expect to be depressed, but also enchanted.
"Louis, my brother, always went places first, being older. And then, after a time, I would follow. I expect he'll still be wearing the beanie hat. He'll probably say, 'What kept you?' One of us will know what to do.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very moving, 21 Jan 2014
By 
Mrs. M. Stamp "Granma" (Bury St Edmunds UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
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A short book with a lasting impact. "This Is The Life" was inspired by Shearer's brother's death and I felt as if I was intruding on his own, personal grief as he describes here the last few months of a man's life. It seems as intimate as a diary at times.
Louis has had surgery for a brain tumour and his younger brother flies out to Australia to be with him and care for him.
Unless I missed it, the younger brother remains unnamed and is just referred to as "Louis's brother". This made me really feel that it is mostly non-fiction and the author's own experience. As Shearer states--being defined as simply being related to someone else is the inevitable consequence of "coming along later and not having the sense to get there first!" But the dominant, older sibling role is reversed as Louis's condition deteriorates. How often that happens with children and their aging parents; and in the same way Shearer describes how even the strongest bonds can be tested at such a time.
Louis appears to have always been a bit odd, rather verging on the autistic spectrum but he did have lots of good friends and as we learn more about Louis's life in Australia it provides the reader with a detailed and moving eulogy.
The book is supposed to be "achingly funny". I found it amusing at times but not laugh out loud. It is also promoted as a book which will move you to tears. It certainly did that. It is extremely moving and a wake-up call for those who forget that life is transient.

This is the Life
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not to my taste, Sorry, 23 July 2014
By 
Claire, Lulu "Lulu" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
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I personally could not get into this book. I appreciate the good reviews for it but I found it very difficult to read. The character build up is insufficient enough to make me care about the characters and I just did not want to read it. The writing style is very 'bitty' and haphazard which also put me off. I appreciate death and illness are difficult topics to write about and that the author has done this well in others' tastes, however, this one just didn't do it for me and I didn't find anything funny on this book at all. Sorry, not for everyone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written, 27 Jun 2014
By 
Don Panik (Cambridge UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
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The subject matter for this book - a fictionalised account of Shearer's bother's last few months as he succumbs to a brain tumour doesn't sound promising, but it is so beautifully written that it is funny, moving and in parts profound. This is a book I will return to - which is about the highest praise I can give it. Wonderful
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4.0 out of 5 stars Two brothers - one dying, 4 May 2014
By 
Emily - London (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
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Alex Shearer is better known for his children’s novels – and he brings the limpid language of children’s writing to this fictionalised account of the months he spent in Australia with his dying brother.

The account of these months is full of small incidents – and they are as much about life and about accepting death, as about his brother dying. Alex Shearer was interviewed on Radio 4 about how not to throw away your dying brother’s old kettle – because you are throwing away part of your brother.

The core of the book – as Shearer tracks back and forth from their shared childhood and partly shared adulthood to the here and now of the final months of his brother’s life as he succumbs to a brain tumour – is about how some people never quite fit with their lives. “Louis had a good brain and he had a degree and a masters and an engineering diploma, but for all that he worked on low-skilled, low-paid employment... it was as though he couldn’t ‘get a hold on life’.... in common with many people who don’t fit into the world as it is, Louis just had to do things right. No slacking, idling or cutting corners... Louis always appeared to know what needed to be done to run a business properly, he just couldn’t seem to do it for himself.”

What the brothers have in common, that friends cannot have, is a shared past. For Louis, as parts of his brain stop working, the past is very present even though he can’t remember the last five minutes: “All our parents’ friends. All weird or outcasts or crippled or screwed up or they had pieces missing..”

Alex has a life which is enough of a success for him to have a wife and children and to shop at Waitrose. He used to be the delinquent, struggling with his father’s death – he is now the success.

Louis by contrast started out as the golden boy but his life has inexorably but erratically gone downhill ever since. Everything has to be perfect – Louis was going to build a house and he was going to make the bricks himself. Louis was going to build a telescope and he was going to grins the lenses himself. But the final result is half a ramshackle house, a kettle with no handle and filth, everywhere filth and things that only half work. “And why isn’t there someone here now, Louis, by your side? I mean, okay, you’ve got some good friends, I know that. But what went wrong Louis? Why isn’t Bella here or Kirstin or Chancelle or Martha? Or a couple of grown-up children? Or a dog?... They were there once. So what happened?”

Alex Shearer writes very simply about what complex love and complex grief for a brother who frustrated those close to him more than he invited them in, and the final few months seem as important for Alex in learning to accept his brother finally, as they are for Louis who calls on his brother in extremis half way across the world, to help him survive the final months of his life.
This account may be fictionalised – but it is fictionalised to get at the essence of what happened – and it does more to acknowledge the complexities of sibling relationships and the vagaries of life’s successes and failures, than a more factual account might have done. It is fundamentally honest.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Such is life, 17 April 2014
This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
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This is a novel based on the death of the author's brother. Unlike the weekend-supplement public spectacle kind of writing so popular ten years ago, this is makes few claims to truth.

One hand, it allows the author some personal distance but, as Sebastian Faulks managed in Birdsong, that distance allows for a much more considered, much more controlled narrative.

This succeeds where so many have failed because it evokes the many different emotions that come with the waning and passing of a loved on, without mawkishness, and ends up as a celebration of life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is the Life, 30 Mar 2014
This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
A fictional work inspired by the death of the author's brother, this is a poignant memoir of two brothers spending time together before the older one dies of cancer. I liked the style of writing and found it an easy read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 18 Mar 2014
By 
Laura Smith (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: This is the Life (Hardcover)
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I loved this book.It's one of those stories that jumps around in time a little so you get a really good understanding of it. It's a book about a dying brother and was inspired by the authors own brother. It's very touching but not overly sentimental, if that makes sense. It's quite to the point and focuses a lot on who the brother was before he got ill and how annoying he was. It documents how the illness affects him as time goes by and you learn sometihng of the relationships he has had thorughout his life. When death comes, it's almost an anti climax and doesn't feel like the whole point of the book. It made me sad but it also helped me to see death in a different way and for that I am grateful.
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This is the Life
This is the Life by Alex Shearer (Hardcover - 27 Feb 2014)
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