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The Beginner's Goodbye Hardcover – 5 Apr 2012
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The work of an artist at the peak of her powers... a brilliantly observed and mercifully unsentimental examination of the emotional arc of grief (Sarah Vine The Times)
Tyler strips away layers of everyday life to reveal the abyss of pain underneath but does so with such skill and sparkling wit it makes this a real celebration of life (Vanessa Berridge Daily Express)
This is what Tyler does better than almost any contemporary writer. She peers at the forgotten areas of the everyday, the bits that are hard to pinpoint, yet make up the bulk of our relationships. And this, ultimately, is why she is such a satisfying writer: she looks at people - at life - from the inside out (Lucy Atkins Sunday Times)
A simple, subtle and really honest account of how one man, Aaron, deals with the darkly comic death of his dumpy, clever and brilliant wife Dorothy... I finished it in one sitting (Alix Walker Stylist)
A perfectly judged and brilliantly executed novel of loss and recovery (Woman & Home)
An Anne Tyler gem: a story about love, about marriage, about two ordinary people so intertwined they cannot be separated - even by death ...See all Product description
Top customer reviews
In her usual way of imbibing her characters with distinctive traits, Tyler's protagonist, Aaron suffers from a disability brought on by a childhood illness that affects his gait, requiring a brace and a cane, which he has never quite gotten used to relying on, while Dorothy is fiercely independent, forthright, and an atypically "unnurturing" doctor. They are as mismatched as chalk and cheese, and Dorothy's reappearance forces Aaron to work through his grief to honestly confront the imperfections of their marriage, without the rose-tinted memories the bereaved tend to cherish.
Of course initially, he insists: "I liked to dwell on these shortcomings now. It wasn't only that I was wondering why they had ever annoyed me. I was hoping they would annoy me still, so that I could stop missing her", which casts these visitations in a romantic light. However, he acknowledges later: "Then why was our marriage so unhappy? / Because it was unhappy. I will say that now. Or it was difficult, at least. Out of sync. Uncoordinated. It seemed we just never quite got the hang of being a couple the way other people did. We should have taken lessons or something; that's how I felt."
Tyler retains her distinctive style of using deceptively simple prose that resonates deep and profound truths in this novel, but for some reason, I could not get a clear mental picture of Aaron, and pictured a slightly doddering 60 year old, rather than the 30ish he was meant to be, which is a sore point with me, because one of Tyler's strengths is her vivid characterisation. At some point, Aaron's colleagues and sister at the publishing firm inherited from his dad, blended into a noisy blur, and at pivotal points in the novel, I found I could not distinguish between two of the women, Irene and Peggy, and had to revisit earlier mentions of them. Perhaps I wasn't reading closely enough, but this novel still did not match up (in my mind) to her other works like "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant", "Earthly Possessions", or "Saint Maybe", just to name three from her impressive oeuvre of work.
When we meet our narrator Aaron Woolcott his wife Dorothy has recently died in a freak accident. I warmed to Aaron from the start and by the end of the book he was up there with my two favourite male Tyler characters - Macon from The Accidental Tourist and Barnaby Gaitlin from A Patchwork Planet. Always a bit of an outsider due to the deformed arm and leg he was left with after a childhood illness, Aaron has constantly had to battle against the patronage and condescension of others, as well as the mollycoddling inflicted by his over-protective mother and sister. When he meets Dorothy, a dour, practical woman who "never saw the point of socialising" something clicks between them and their marriage, if not exactly made in heaven, certainly seems to work for the two of them.
Dorothy's death when an oak tree falls on their sun porch leaves a gaping hole in Aaron's life (not to mention his roof), and when she starts appearing to him in random places it brings him a strange sort of comfort. It's also an escape from the well-meaning friends and family who are rallying round with offers of food and social engagements and, inevitably, misguided matchmaking advice.
For me this was vintage Tyler, quirky and endearing with some beautifully observed characters and situations. Although it was a fairly quick read and it might not be frantic or exciting enough for some readers, I was completely absorbed in it and I'm so pleased that one of my favourite authors has produced such a little gem.
Like many of Tyler's novels, this is a very considered piece of writing that draws you in slowly. It's a short novel (just under 200 pages), so it doesn't take long to read, but its simplicity is deceptive. Every sentence has been thought out and its genuinely moving. I felt for Aaron, who's a little bit hopeless really and who seems older than his actual years. He reminded me of Barnaby in A Patchwork Planet, probably my favourite of her books. I never truly warmed to Tyler's last couple of books, but with this, she's completely back in form.
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It turned into a book about a man whose wife had...Read more
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