THE LANGUAGE OF DYING by Sarah Pinborough


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A young woman sits by her father’s bedside, watching as death approaches. The rest of the family also gathers, unsure of how to deal with the impending loss, but she is waiting for something else.…

Pinborough’s (The Death House, 2015, etc.) novella captures the haunting and mundane vigil as a loved one nears death as well as the complexities of how families deal with this tension. The narrator has been nursing her cancer-ridden father for months, so when the other siblings come home at last, she resents their discomfort and their desire to do their duty and then escape back to the world of the living. Through flashbacks, Pinborough reveals important parts of the family's history: the day their mother left, the day one of the twins began doing drugs, the abusive former marriage of the narrator. But this back story proves to be the book's weakness; it offers little in terms of actual perspective on the characters and instead feels somewhat clichéd. Perhaps this is the point: this family could represent, and does represent, all of us as we deal with death. But at the same time the author has created these pasts for the characters for a reason, and they could have been more unusual. The other weakness is the writing itself: the sentences lack true lyricism, and the use of second-person narration is jarring. The one thing that elevates it is the strange and inexplicable vision that awaits the narrator at the moment of her father’s death. She waits to revisit something she has seen before at times of great emotional change, and the meaning of that vision, while ambiguous, is also full of life, violence, and wild beauty.

Moments of strange fantasy make this meditation on loss both unexpected and meaningful.

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-681-44436-9
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Jo Fletcher/Quercus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2016


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