Carol Drage lent me this book, saying that it was excellent. I was really ambivalent about reading it as it is about a young mother who is dying of terminal cancer and I really don’t like reading or watching stuff that is depressing. So I peeped at it - and got drawn in… despite the heartbreaking subject, the story had so much humour and so many other scenarios to balance it. I gave it to my eldest daughter and she phoned me to say that she had the same experience and is passing it on to Kerensa.
Mia Hayes, an Irish journalist usually known as Rabbit, loves her life. She loves her spirited 12 year old daughter, Juliet and her colourful, unruly family.
But it turns out the world has other plans for Rabbit, She’s dying and nothing can be done about it. As the family visits her in the hospice, we get to know her story, as the narration switches between past and present.
Although the story revolves around her large Irish family, there are lots of additional important characters as the story takes us back in time. So, as well as her twelve year old daughter Juliet and her parents, we are introduced to the love of her life, Johnny Faye who was the lead singer in the Kitchen Sink band where Rabbit’s brother played. Her siblings, the siblings' partners, the friends, the friends' partners, and the members of the band - they are all interlaced into the plot. All the characters are well described and believable, I wrote all their names down so I could more easily remember who was who.
The book deals with how Rabbit is coping with her imminent death as well as how this wider circle of family and friends are coming to terms with the impending loss of a loved one.
It’s commonly accepted that there are seven emotional stages of grief which are usually understood to be shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance and/or hope. I reckon the book addressed all of these symptoms because the story is told from many points of view. Through the eyes of the various characters it describes how each of them struggled with their own feelings as they try to come to terms with the unavoidable. The book tackles tough issues such as how Rabbit and the family agonise over how to break the news to her young daughter Juliet, and how to decide who will continue to look after Juliet after Rabbit’s death. The author deals with the whole subject of bereavement with a direct, honest and informative approach, and it’s done sensitively.
However, this story is not all darkness and gloom and despite the sad subject matter it wasn’t maudlin or over dramatised. The story is as much a celebration of Rabbit's life and achievements as about her illness.
Like me, I think most people who have faced the situation of terminal illness and bereavement have experienced moments of humour and laughter, and so I easily identified with this. I sniggered throughout and actually laughed out loud at times. In fact the style of writing was generally light and easy and her style was pleasure to read.
So, to summarise, the book is poignant, yet incredibly funny and is beautifully written. I felt like I knew and loved the family and friends. It is a memorable book that will stay with me for a long time and will probably be one of my all time favourites.
There’s a really excellent book by Elizabeth Kubler Ross which is invaluable to those who are dying or are suffering a bereavement. It’s called On Death and Dying.