Top positive review
5 people found this helpful
Touching, funny and wise
on 2 April 2014
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.