READS OF THE YEAR 2016: Henry Bell

302567522016 eh, what a shanner. As Gramsci says, the old world is dying etc… so, grief, death anxiety, and more grief are my reads of the year.

Liz Lochhead Fugitive Colours (Birlinn, 2016)

Liz Lochhead’s first collection in a decade contains heartbreakingly beautiful poetry about the loss of her husband Tom as well as some of the last love poems she wrote for him. For me, she equals any modern elegy with the lines:

But tonight you are three months dead

and I must pull down the bed and lie in it alone.

Tomorrow, and every day in this place

these words of Sorley MacLean’s will echo through me:

The world is still beautiful, though you are not in it.

And this will not be a consolation

but a further desolation.

It being Liz, there is of course humour, politics, nursery rhymes, rock ‘n’ roll, and sex elsewhere in the collection. It’s a book that feels like it does a decade of life justice.

Irvin Yalom Creatures of a Day (Piatkus, 2015)undying-cover

On to the death anxiety. A friend left this book by Stanford’s psychiatry professor in my house, and I wasn’t able to give it back to her. It’s a beautiful set of ten short stories relating to grief and mortality. They are straight-forwardly presented, more case-note than fiction, but all offer opportunity to think about how patients live life and prepare for death. This might feel voyeuristic, but the 85 year old Yalom puts his own living and dying at the centre of the book and feels like the wounded healer we need.

Michel Faber Undying (Canongate, 2016)

Undying is an angry love story, full of disgust and bitterness in the face of the death of a lover. It is also filled with such tender and raw observations that make judging it as a work of art difficult. It’s a battle between love and death, between the mind and the body, and it is remarkable that these poems can be so devastating, and so enjoyable.