Friday, August 21, 2009

The Language of Dying, by Sarah Pinborough

The Language of Dying
Sarah Pinborough
PS Publishing: 2009

This is a long, slow, story of grief and death. The narrator, a thirty-nine year old woman, tells the story of The Language of Dying to you, her father. It’s a first person narrative, but the use of “you” gives the impression of second person. You are dying and you are taking a long time of it.

Standing there in the kitchen I still think that death is a clinical thing. You look so sick. You’ve given up. You haven’t drunk anything. I think this should surely be enough to make death take over. I am wrong of course. You have so much more dying to do yet. You have to become so much less before you go. The doctor is in fact, spot on. One week. Maybe a little less. The body fights, you know?

Through each chapter the experience of a woman waiting for her father to die while simultaneously caring for him becomes more and more stark. Her siblings show up and in flashbacks the reader is given glimpses of the home life of their childhood, how they were together and what home was like back then. This is in striking contrast to the narrator's understanding that the death of her father will likely cause the siblings to slowly drift away from each other with no anchor left. This resonates.

When I hear other people say they have unusual families, I smile. Our family has so much colour that the brightness is damaging.

As Graham Joyce points out in his introduction, Sarah Pinborough is best known as a horror writer, but here the horror is not the supernatural. The horror is what we will all have to face eventually and in a variety of ways. The horror is the personal horror of waiting while a loved one dies slowly.

The Language of Dying is a beautiful, painful, stunning story. It doesn’t do anything so cliché as pluck at heartstrings. It is a realistic portrayal of a woman and a family dealing with her father dying slowly in her house. It’s not easy, but damn is this an outstanding story.

Reading copy provided courtesy of PS Publishing.

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