Book Review: The Language of Dying

PrintE-mail Written by Graeme Reynolds

Review: The Language of Dying / Author: Sarah Pinborough Review / Format: Kindle / Publisher: PS Publishing / Release Date: April 13th

A woman sits beside her father's bedside as the night ticks away the final hours of his life. As she watches over her father, she relives the past week and the events that brought the family together . . . and she recalls all the weeks before that served to pull it apart.

There has never been anything normal about the lives raised in this house. It seems to her that sometimes her family is so colourful that the brightness hurts, and as they all join together in this time of impending loss she examines how they came to be the way they are and how it came to just be her, the drifter, that her father came home to die with.

But, the middle of five children, the woman has her own secrets . . . particularly the draw that pulled her back to the house when her own life looked set to crumble. And sitting through her lonely vigil, she remembers the thing she saw out in the fields all those years ago . . . the thing that they found her screaming for outside in the mud. As she peers through the familiar glass, she can't help but hope and wonder if it will come again.

Because it's one of those night, isn't it dad? A special terrible night. A full night. And that's always when it comes. If it comes at all.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. I've heard good things about Sarah Pinborough's writing and thought that this novella was as good a place as any to start.

The story is told from the point of view of the middle child in a family of five, caring for her father who is dying of lung cancer. As the tale progresses, she looks at the history of her family and how the impending death of her father will be the thing that finally pulls them all apart.

I'm going to come right out and say it. This is an astonishing piece of work. The characters within the book are as well rounded as any I've ever read. Their individual hopes, dreams, fears and secrets are laid bare with clean and almost poetic prose that is never pretentious or overdone. By the time I finished this book, I could believe that these characters were real and that I was reading an autobiography instead of a horror story. Each of them is broken and flawed in some way, and its these flaws and the relationship the family members have with each other that brings this story to life.

The horror in the tale is subtle and disturbing as her father, who had such a huge influence on her life, slowly wastes away to little more than a shell. It's a horror grounded in reality, the loss of a parent is something that all of us will have to deal with at some point, and having it laid bare on these pages was a disturbing and thought provoking experience for me.

There is a supernatural subplot that runs through the story, pushing it over the boundary into genre fiction, about a creature seen in the fields outside the house at times where the protagonist was in great pain, which, to be honest, was a distraction from the very real horror happening inside. It didn't spoil the book for me, but if those sections had been left out it would not have made much of an impact on the overall story.

The Language of Dying is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's a subtle, beautifully written, harrowing story that gets under your skin and stays with you long after you turn the final page.

Highly recommended.


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