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MOVINGLY INTO THE GREAT UNKNOWN
on 31 March 2013
In the nursing home a life is ebbing away, ninety-two year old Mary so often confused but in lucid intervals with vivid memories of the long past. Her son John, a biographer, realizes she represents living history. With research and photographs he will try to explore that past, revelations leading to greater understanding and respect.
In some ways this is a social documentary, an entire century covered in the tale of three mothers: Ruth who died giving birth to Grace, she whose ironic fall from grace meant Mary could never really be brought up as her daughter. All the while here is a study of changing times and attitudes. Some find it impossible to adapt, as with honest farmer Wilson, unable to forgive the transgression of one he held most dear. One warms to preacher Walker - mild when out and about but fiery in the pulpit, there jabbing at the consciences of those eager to condemn.
Throughout vividly recreated are times of happiness, passion, crushed hopes, sudden end of innocence, determination to face up to formidable challenges.
Much uplifts - as with that portrayal of a close knit community where people rallied round (the village of Wigton completely closing down for a funeral), an era when singing seemed a way of life. (In one glorious sequence old Mary breaks into song. Gradually the entire nursing home's patients and staff join in - depression dispelled, all uplifted.)
John is deeply moved by what he discovers. Many readers will be too, especially those with loved ones who are no longer aware. This represents a growing problem. People are living far longer than ever before, for many the mind seemingly intent on preceding the body's departure from the world. How best to preserve the quality of life? Can much be learned from John's attempts?
Many thoughts are provoked by a novel so tender and true. Welcome here an evocative, involving read.