The two books I just finished could not be more different; May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes and The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I happily finished the latter during an unexpected bout of insomnia, but reading the last hundred or so pages in the early hours of the morning only heightened the experience.
Will Schwalbe’s elderly mother Mary Anne is dying of pancreatic cancer and during the last years of her life, between chemo, over dinner and while waiting for endless doctors’ appointments, mother and son form a book club of two by swapping, discussing and occasionally disagreeing about a huge range of books including The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stig Larsson, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.
As the months pass, the books they read not only create a space for Will to confront his mother’s mortality, it allows him to see her has a complex individual and not just ‘mother’. Already close, it’s as if each book they choose reveals something previously undiscovered about their personalities.
The End of Your Life Book Club is an extended eulogy to a likeable, feisty woman, although I couldn’t get past Mary Anne’s habit of always reading the last page first. Her attitude to life was simple, but profound; be kind, do what you can for others and always make your bed each morning.
It’s a sentimental book, but not cloying and, as I suspected it would, it has added about twenty titles to my To Read list.
Finishing May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes was bitter-sweet. I loved parts of it—it sagged a little in the middle, but rallied near the end. It was a book I was happy to finish, but glad I’d had the chance to read.
Set in contemporary North America over a one year period, it begins with Harry (a Nixon scholar) sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner with his brother George and his disillusioned, middle class family—each of them unaware that their lives are about to shocked into change. Over the course of the book, A. M. Homes hurls the spectrum of human experience at her characters as she puts each of them on an uncomfortable road to revelation; there’s an affair, a murder, mental illness, betrayal, brutality and sexual misadventure, but there’s also a lot of black humour and each of the characters are rendered beautifully.
Every flaw (oh, the flaws), trait and emotional life adds flesh, and by the end of the book, you have that rare feeling that you’ve spent time with these people and suddenly, almost without knowing it, you care.
Finishing a book can be just as pleasurable as finding the next one. Right now I’m torn between the much talked about modern classic Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, the thriller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or Grace: A Memoir by Vogue’s Grace Coddington and the book I’ve been meaning to read for ages, The Secret River by Kate Grenville.