Top critical review
One person found this helpful
Dying with Dignity
on 6 August 2012
This book was on my 'to read' pile for a while, and I finally read it almost in one sitting last night.
Marika Cobbold's first novel is a brave look at the difficulties which accompany growing old, particularly for family members who have to look after ageing and sick relatives. Amelia, a talented young woman in her thirties, is stuck in a going-nowhere relationship with a country solicitor. Her mother is a neurotic, obsessed with germs, and her work isnt' going anywhere. And the person who has offered her unconditional love throughout her life, her Swedish grandmother Selma, is finally deteriorating, both physically and mentally. When Selma's son puts Selma into a retirement home, Amelia determines that there will be one thing that she will not mess up or give up on - she will care for her grandmother until the end. And thus begins a rather moving and bravely honest examination of looking after an elderly woman in the early stages of dementia, as Amelia visits Selma at Cherryfield Retirement Home, takes her out on trips, tries to look after her in her own home and, finally, determines that Selma will once more see the house that she lived in for so many years, and stay there again, maybe even die there...
There was a lot I enjoyed about this book. Cobbold is astute about the elderly - I particularly liked Admiral Mallett, who realizes to his horror that people no longer think of him as quite human due to his advanced age - and conveys Amelia's frustration in looking after her difficult grandmother as well as her great love of her. While I thought Gerald was far too obnoxious for Amelia to have entered into a relationship with him, I enjoyed very much reading about her developing relationship with Henry Mallett, the Admiral's son, a Naval chaplain. And the ending was incredibly moving. However, I have to say that I found the book quite melancholy in many ways. I rather wished that Cobbold had told us more about the young Selma, and filled us in on her life in Sweden and her first, German Jewish husband - we really only saw what Selma was like as a very old lady, and didn't learn enough about what she'd been like as a strong, together woman. I also felt that some of the black humour didn't quite work - Gerald was too nasty really to be funny, and Dagmar's neuroses, including manic handwashing, were too extreme and too painful to be comic. The sections involving Dagmar were extremely disturbing. I'd have also liked to have known a bit more about what happened to Amelia - had she decided on going back to London? All in all, though I thought the book was impressive, I think Cobbold opened up lots of interesting plot possibilities that she didn't quite explore enough. Three and a half stars, though I'm probably being a bit unfair. I've got three other Cobbold novels and am definitely looking forward to reading them, so the book did make me enthusiastic about the writer.