Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

"Undying" by Michel Faber (Canongate, 2016)

Poems by the bereaved are often about clearing out the fridge; dealing with post and e-mail; going on a date too soon; wondering, when going somewhere new, whether the deceased would have liked it; considering euthanasia; collecting memories about the deceased from friends. There's often a "pull yourself together because that's what the deceased would have wanted" poem. The writing's generally brave, honest, and restrained. This book's no different.

Sentences like "All I can do, in what remains of my brief time,/ is mention, to whoever cares to listen,/ that a woman once existed, who was kind/ and beautiful and brave, and I will not forget/ how the world was altered, beyond recognition,/ when we met" (p.119) turn up in eulogies without being mistaken for poetry. That they're clichés doesn't make them any less true or less worth saying. In this book even the imagery is clichéd. Here are 5 ideas I've seen used before -

  • "Chore by chore, I earned your trust,/ and learned I could be trusted" (p.34)
  • "The killing's done offstage./ On all the websites, no one ever dies/ of your disease. They swap advice" (p.40)
  • "Besides, it's over now./ I'm surplus to requirements/ You are with others of your kind" (p.63)
  • "For seventy-five months/ I slowed my pace,/ a fraction more each week,/ to stay in step with you/ ... The more chemotherapy you had,/ the more I handicapped myself" (p.71)
  • "We take out time [making love]. An hour or more./ Halfway, you briefly, indiscreetly pause/ to take a pill" (p.18)

When rhyme's used, the result's not usually pleasant -

  • Yes, let us not leave off praying.
    Not for God our soul to keep
    but just to die, of old age, in our sleep
  • By all means take some time
    to grieve, but don't let it become
    excessive. Accept the situation:
    you've lost her. Try not to be
  • we really have too many towels,
    and too much medicine for your bowels.
    I'll never read your self-help books.
    They've done what good they're going to do.
    Bid them adieu

I liked "Old people in hospital", "Fluid balance", and maybe "Your plants". A few of the anecdotes (e.g. "[indecipherable] kappa") could be added to short stories.

Other reviews

  • Allan Massie (a remarkable and very moving work)
  • Alan Taylor
  • readerdad (It’s a slim volume – barely 120 pages)
  • compulsivereader
  • Tim Upperton (When he uses a poetic device, such as rhyme, he is deaf to tone ... In these poems, you sense the rawness of the emotion in spite of the clunkiness of its expression. This is the work, I think, of someone who has turned to poetry at a time of extremity, and it will offer comfort to readers who are similarly afflicted.)
  • Paul Flux

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