The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

March 6, 2012

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.

There comes a time in every person’s life when you realise that your parents are only human, that revelatory second when you discover that they are not the giants that you always assumed them to be. It’s that moment when you learn that they are in fact just as flawed as everyone else.

Sarah Pinborough does a wonderful job of tapping directly into that sensation. As the family history is explored it is easy to draw parallels between the impending loss of the father and other traumatic events in the past. Old forgotten feelings of anger, grief and impotence resurface and the siblings are forced confront feelings long since buried.

The thing that really struck me about The Language of Dying is that this is an intensely personal story. There is a sense of near voyeurism as you experience the innermost thoughts and feelings of a woman watching her father slowly die and her family drift apart. The writing is so strong that at times throughout the narrative, I felt as though I was genuinely intruding on another person’s life.

The relationships between the brothers and sisters, their insecurities, are all laid bare. Though their father may not have been the best parent in the world, he is undoubtedly the lynch-pin of their family unit. The sense that they will all suffer greatly at his loss is palpable.

Effective and subtly affecting this is a beautiful, sometimes harrowing, story that deals with the most devastating of life’s experiences in a delicate and thoughtful manner. Anyone who has ever lost a family member or friend, will appreciate the sense of catharsis that Pinborough captures in her writing. There is every possibility that you will be able to relate to the stories darker moments as well.

The Language of Dying is available now from PS Publishing as both an ebook and hardback. Highly recommended.


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