For its beautiful prose, unflinching honesty, and ability to carry us straight to the unnerving perimeters of death to witness the unraveling—I believe this book deserves no less than 5 stars.
The Language of Dying is a quick read, but there is so much conveyed in so few words, and not a speck of it is written in vain. It candidly explores the depths of mortality, narrowing in on a sick man’s final days of life as his dignity deteriorates even more quickly than his body.
This glimpse is forceful, and doesn’t pretend that death is simple or graceful or anything less than a red-eyed monster of the night who strips you of your sanity and blurs that fragile line between reality and imagination.
It is pain—in its purest form.
This story is told through the perspective of a distraught woman watching her father lie helpless in his bed of death as cancer slowly and unmercifully claims his life. But we don’t feel his pain, we feel hers; she who is left to linger.
Although he is the one gasping for air as he coughs up his cancer, and he is the one wasting away from his inability to eat or drink because the end is aggressively washing over him, it is her death we are made to feel.
We don’t learn her name, just her agony.
Through her eyes, we see the death of her father, but it is the quiet death of her spirit that we are bound to consume. Because how does watching a loved one die not kill pieces of you in the process?
With her mother long gone and her siblings estranged and scattered, her father is the last bit of glue loosely holding their dysfunctional family together. One by one, they gather to his side in reluctance, but the glue is dried up and peeling away, and they know their already battered bond will soon die along with him.
There’s much sadness lurking in these pages, a sadness mixed heavily with fear. Because, as morbid as it sounds, we will all eventually take these characters places at some point, as the dying and the one sitting helplessly by. And as cruel as it will seem, the life around us will still go on. But after pain comes healing, even if we have to chase after it, hunting it down in the middle of the night just to feel a bit of its warmth.
Although this book is not meant to be a consolation, one can draw comfort in their relation to these words; to these feelings; to the shortcomings of these characters. Above all else, this book is real. It showcases our weakness when faced with death, and life in general. It represents our selfishness and our guilt, and it awkwardly hugs us and tells us that it is okay to not be okay. It is normal to feel so abnormal…to lose it, sometimes.
I didn’t really want to let this story in, but I really didn’t have a choice. I read this in a constant “choked up” state—needing to stop here and there to catch some air because it is that consuming. It is beautiful in its honesty, and it is beautiful through even its ugliest descriptions. The writing is eloquent and impactful, and just so clever that my eyes were not allowed to glide, but forced to linger and devour and even reread.
Yes, I would recommend this a thousand times over—to those who think they’re strong enough to handle the cold reality of death in their fiction, to those who think they’re far too weak to try, and to those who need to feel a little less alone in their grief.
(But especially to you, Karen– because you’re on the fence and you need to climb over and NOT pass this one up!;)
Although this book in its entirety is worthy of a highlight, here are some excerpts that really stood out:
“There is a language to the dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy. It is a secret hushed thing that lives in the whisper of the nurses’ skirts as they rustle up ad down our stairs…”
“My eyes adjust to the dark and I make patterns out of the shadows and shapes of the plastered ceiling. I think it’s human nature, isn’t it? To look for patterns or meaning in things.”
“…its red eyes glow angrily and through the glass I can see hot steam charge from its flared nostrils as it paws the ground. I think perhaps it is blacker than the night, its mane shining as it is tossed this way and that. I am not sure whether it is beautiful or ugly, but I know that it’s wonderful.”
“You look so sick. You’ve given up. You haven’t drunk anything. I think this should surely be enough to make death take over. I am wrong of course. You have so much more dying to do yet. You have to become so much less before you go.”
*Huge thanks to publisher for providing Arc via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*