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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the best, 22 April 2009
By 
Mary Jones (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coda (Hardcover)
This has to be one of the best books I have ever read. Funny, poignant and very real. I could feel the heat of the sun and the chapel wall he describes against my back. What a writer. What a loss
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just right, 5 April 2010
By 
Bythewall (Northumberland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coda (Paperback)
Coda is the last of Simon Gray's four Smoking Diaries. I enjoyed all of them but, over the few years that Gray wrote his rambling, amusing and philosophical diaries/biography, my husband, who'd bought me the first of them, had cancer and died. At the end of the third diary, Simon Gray is also told he has terminal cancer. So it was with some trepidation that I approached the fourth as he goes through thinking about death, his wife and family, and his various doctors with their different approaches to his emotional state. He still managed to make me laugh out loud and still tackled difficult subjects and thoughts with his usual wonderful honesty. In particular I found it so useful in letting me realise what my husband was thinking over his last year - both of them no longer drinking; both smoking to the end. Men in particular are not much good at speaking about what they're feeling and it was wonderful that Simon Gray had his natural means of getting down his thoughts. This sounds a very personal review, but actually most of us are going to lose someone close and certainly we're all going to face death, so I'd say this is a book that everyone should read. It's not depressing, just illuminating, uplifting and witty.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and moving, 14 Dec 2008
By 
T. Boyd (Bushey, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coda (Hardcover)
Simon Gray wrote wonderfully. His digressions give one the impression that one is listening in to his unfiltered interior monologue. He is wise and witty and does not spare the doctors who dealt with him so insensitively. He castigates the consultant who told him he had a year to live for taking that year away from him. His autobiographical writings are a wonderful legacy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Over so quickly *SPOILERS INCLUDED*, 13 Aug 2010
By 
Straightforward (Twickenham) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coda (Hardcover)
In previous volumes of his diaries, there's an undercurrent of foreboding about Simon's smoking habit - much of the three volumes include his perspective on watching his friend Harold Pinter's own battle against cancer. He knows, deep down in his writer's heart, that he's unlikely to get away with smoking 60 cigarettes a day for over 50 years (that's over 1,000,000 cigarettes) without his body taking revenge at some point. We are told at the end of 'The Last Cigarette' that doctors have discovered a tumour, but the book ends before we can find out what that means for Simon.

He wastes no time in letting us know - the familiar flowing style is still there, as casual, as amusing and as fully disclosive as ever, except this time he's not talking about his love of chocolate, or the old days when he'd drink and behave badly - he's trying in his own way to come to terms with the news that he has a life-threatening illness, and he does so by writing about it.

For a few weeks he can't write anything - as the book starts, he seems numbed by shock; a perfectly understandable reaction - but eventually he can't help but start to reflect upon his feelings and experiences as the meetings with doctors pass, and he holidays with his wife in their favourite destination, Crete. They decided that it is better not to know how long he can expect to live, as it would change the way they share their time together.

He recalls a horrible meeting with one of they doctors (he gives them all names - this one is called 'The Chipmunk of Doom'), where he starts to ask the doctor how long it would take before they know whether a tumour on his neck is lined to his lung cancer or not. He haltingly enquires "How long...", whereupon the doctor, mistaking the words for the question about life expectancy, jumps in with "about a year". Simon and his wife are devastated and furious, but what can they do? The genie is out of the bottle.

Much of the book is written in Crete, and sometimes he wonders as he swims whether it will be for the last time, or as he watches the sea, and of course as readers who now he's died, we are aware that it was. It's very poignant, as well as being as funny as the other volumes were.

We are given hope that he is entering remission, and then - abruptly - the book ends. Mercifully, he was spared the final stages of his illness; an aneurism is what finally did for him.

It's no fun reading about people's battles against illnesses - I avoid them like the plague normally; I don't find them inspiring; there's not even the voyeuristic thrill that I might have got from reading them when I was young. But Simon's book is funny, and moving; it lacks the portentious heaviness that weighs down similar tomes - it's even light on it's feet at times, dancing with humour and life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotised by Ordinariness, 30 Aug 2011
This review is from: Coda (Paperback)
Simon Gray's diaries have a hypnotic effect that I can't really explain. The very ordinariness of their content makes them incredibly compelling. I read The Smoking Diaries and The Last Cigarette shortly after they were published (I missed out The Year of The Jouncer for some reason) and then bought Coda when it came out. Family events stopped me reading it at the time, but I've just picked it up 3 years later, and having read it, I feel about it exactly how I remember feeling about TSD and TLC - as I said, hypnotised. Considering the diaries trace the arc of Simon Gray's journey through cancer towards death, this, the last installment is incredible for it's complete lack of sentimentality, or self pity. There's a bit of annoyance, understandably, but mostly there's observation - of doctors, and hospitals, and hotels, and holidaymakers. I became so wrapped up in Simon's wanderings through these situations that you really start to care that he does get upgraded to the bungalow he covets in the Cretan hotel, and that at least one doctor will look him in the eye and tell him something he wants to hear, without patronising him with pats on the shoulder. The scene where the terminally-ill Gray visits the terminally-ill Harold Pinter and they flick through a biography of Keith Miller, remembering not so much the hey-day of cricket, but their own better-times together is incredibly powerful. Towards the end of Coda, Simon Gray finds an enthusiasm for the works and life-story of Stefan Zweig - perhaps because Zweig's story mirrors his own to some degree, as he dies prematurely and has a much younger wife. This enthusiasm is infectious, as having finished Coda, I have since been busy Googling Gray, and his family and friends that are mentioned in the book. My next step is to buy The Year of The Jouncer and complete the set (albeit out of sequence), but I know that won't be enough. I want more diaries; I want more Simon Gray.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling read, 21 Mar 2010
By 
lilysmum "lilysmum65" (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coda (Paperback)
This was, for me, one of those books where you open the parcel, skim the first page and then put aside whatever else you were planning to spend the evening doing because you cannot put the book down.
Gray's take on his illness is refreshing and uplifting. He really gets on with the business of living, and never spends time writing about symptoms or even updating the reader on the progress of his final illness. He concentrates on reflecting on his life and his experiences with doctors. There are some fantastically moving descriptions of medical consultations with doctors he nicknames Dr Rootle and the Chipmunk of Doom. There are some bravura descriptive passages - for example, his metaphorical description of the tumour found in his neck stopped me in my tracks and I had to re read it several times - the phrasing is poetic, but spare, and so compelling. I read it in one sitting, staying up until the early hours.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bittersweet goodby, 8 Feb 2009
By 
J. Lamede "jlamede" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coda (Hardcover)
If, like me, you've read all Simon Gray's earlier memoirs, you'll find this a bittersweet experience. Still funny and amazingly fluent (would we could all write like this, with the consummate skill of apparent spur-of-the-moment spontaneity), of course it bears the cloud of impending death all the way through. A lovely last book. Difficult to finish, because when you do it's like finally parting with a dear friend.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving finale to this fine series, 8 Jan 2009
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coda (Hardcover)
This final volume, Coda, in Simon Gray's diaries will be warmly welcomed by anyone who has followed Gray's progress from The Smoking Diaries to The Last Cigarette, in which he documented his life in characteristic candid and confessional style. The subtheme in all the books is Gray's battle with smoking, and latterly the onset of lung-cancer.

However, Gray's diaries are not all about smoking - far from it. Gray writes about many topics including his life as a playwright, his holidays in Greece, and his close friendship with Harold Pinter (sadly also deceased late last year). But the battle with smoking is an underlying theme throughout and is a melancholic warning to anyone who feels that smoking is something to do with personal freedom.

In Coda, the last volume in this quartet we read of Gray's unwanted prognosis. He really didn't want the doctor (nicknamed "The Chipmunk of Doom") to give him the prognosis but when he asked "how long . . ?" ( actually meaning, before I get a definite diagnosis) was interpreted by the doctor as being "how long have I got?" I have always thought that I would like to know how long I have before dying of a terminal illness so that I could plan my last year and make sure I made the most of it, but Gray writes that "a doctor who tells you that you have a year to live has taken the year away from you". Ignorance is bliss apparently.

The rest of the book describes in diary form how Gray deals with his illness and the many hospital visits he has to endure. The book would be unbearably sad but Gray and his wife Victoria go on holiday to Crete and despite Gray's obvious physical limitations they manage to have a reasonable time despite the death sentence hanging over them.

One of his chapters, "Reading Matters" describes the large number of books he took on holiday with him. While in Crete he discovered Stefan Zweig and read Beware of Pity which has the same effect on him as it does on most people - how did I come to miss this book for so long? Later on, when back home he researched Zweig and reads everything by him he can lay his hands on.

Simon Gray and his wife are keen swimmers and this seems to be one activity which is relatively unhindered by his deteriorating physical condition. One afternoon in Crete he goes for a walk on his own, going much too far until he "began to feel hot, too hot, and a bit dizzy". It being too far to get back to his wife he decided to have a swim, which helped for a while but soon he was floundering in the sea. Would it be better to:

. . . drift on, until finally drifting underwater without noticing a change, simply a slipping out of two elements into one, seeping into the sea, scarcely a death really, and so much better than rotting in bed . . .

But the thought of leaving Victoria reading in the café alone in Crete, having to arrange to take my body back if it washed ashore" became too much for him and he managed to haul himself ashore and plod back to the café, not telling Victoria how close he was to death.

With this book, we of course know the end right from the beginning, and I wondered what the closing chapter would be like. However, the diaries end as one might expect, in an unfinished way and we have to rely on the accounts of Gray's friends to read about what happened next.

While the books has an pervasive air of sadness to it, it is far from being a gloomy read. I enjoyed reading all four volumes and this last one, Coda, was in a sense, a fulfilment of the others, leaving memories of someone who through the intimacy of his writing almost feels like a close friend.
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5.0 out of 5 stars lifted my mood, 29 Aug 2013
This review is from: Coda (Paperback)
In `Coda' Simon Gray diarises the diagnosis and treatment of his terminal lung cancer, including the black moments of anger, shame, terror, makes me laugh out loud at least three times and lifts my mood greatly. Little need to add to what I posted last December about `The Last Cigarette'. Here it is again.
"A delicious treat to be once again in the self-deprecatingly witty hands of Simon Gray's stream-of-consciousness autobiographical persona. Sad too, as I've now only one more to go - Coda - before the cigarettes finally claim him for the smoking room situated somewhere between heaven and the other place, which is crowded with all the most interesting and lovable people. Reading this just after Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, I realised (a) just what a clever craftsman Simon Gray is, and (b) what a debt modern writers owe to Virginia."
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7 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart-rending and bittersweet, 5 Nov 2008
This review is from: Coda (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this book, even though the subject matter is dark and the overall tone of the book is rather melancholy. He writes extremely well; the only mild irritant is his tendency to waffle on and on, making a sentence extremely long and sometimes a little boring and you begin to wonder when he will finally place a full stop.A little like that!
On the whole though, highly recommended and can be read as a ' stand alone ' book, although it is beneficial to have read The Smoking Diaries.
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Coda
Coda by Simon Gray (Paperback - 1 Jun 2009)
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