The Language Of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

The Blurb On The Back:

Tonight is a special terrible night.

A woman sits at her father’s bedside, watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life.  Her brothers and sisters – all broken, their bonds fragile – have been there for the past week, but now she is alone.

And that’s when it always comes

The clock ticks, the darkness beckons.

If it comes at all.

You can order The Language Of Dying by Sarah Pinborough from Amazon UK, or Waterstone’s.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

A woman lives in a house in Surrey with her father, who is dying from terminal cancer.  He doesn’t have long left – maybe a week – and so the woman’s family gather to say their goodbyes.  Her elder brother Paul, elder sister Penny and twin younger brothers Davey and Simon all come to visit and in-between there are nurses and carers who help to manage their father’s condition and keep him comfortable.  But even aside from their father dying, this is not a happy family.  Everyone has their troubles, their tensions and their secrets and it is likely that this will be the last time they all see each other.  

The unnamed woman has another secret though, one that she has never revealed.  Because she is waiting for another visitor who comes when her life is in crisis, one who wants her to travel with them, one who she has always been able to resist until now …

Sarah Pinborough’s horror novella is an unflinching look at the emotional and physical mechanics of dying, tied in with the drama of a broken family and adding a dark fantasy element.  It’s a moving read that’s tightly written, filled with sadness while the main character is neither saint nor sinner, aware of her own faults as much as those of her siblings and father and although I predicted the ending that didn’t lessen its impact.  

I found this to be a very uncomfortable read in places as Pinborough doesn’t shy away from the realities of the process of dying, from the spit jar that the main character’s father needs to use to his agitated attempts to get out of bed in his last few days but then the death of a loved one is difficult to go through.  The characters of her siblings are quite broadly drawn (and if I have one criticism it’s that there is a predictability to the ways the woman and her younger brothers are broken) but the relationship between them is subtle and what also comes through the book is the love that the woman feels for her father and her siblings and how that also comes with resentment (notably of her sister Penny, who she envies for her “shine” of specialness).   

The fantasy horror elements fit into the death storyline without undermining it – in fact, for me it brings an extra element to it by adding to the woman’s character.  This isn’t a horror book that’s aimed at grossing you out or completely terrifying you, it’s one that disturbs you and lingers.  There is a predictability to how it plays out but that predictability is oddly comforting and while the ending is open, it’s nonetheless one that feels right in the circumstances and does provide closure.

All in all though, I found this a moving if uncomfortable read that did make me think about death and dying in a way that I had not done before and as such I think it’s worth a look.

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