I don’t often read reviews.
Not just for my own books but for anyone’s really. It’s a personal foible.
But for some unknown reason the other day, I had a look to see what folk might have to say about Passage, the book that was my first foray into writing contemporary fiction.
One reviewer commented that “She (Annie) just seems to be adrift from beginning to end… Throughout the book, readers truly want to see Annie find a love again to fill the ache in her heart. Or at least peace within her soul…”
I thought to myself that this reviewer doesn’t know grief, or if she/he does, then she/he should realise that grief affects everyone in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. For some, it can dominate their whole life.
In Annie’s case, we meet her in her first year of loss after loved husband Alex’s violent and sudden death. To assume that she will be bouncing through that year, well-sorted in her thinking processes, and looking for a new love is unlikely. And frankly unreasonable given the trauma that she experienced. If she had sought ‘love’ in that first year, what sort of person would that have made her and what would it have said about the fact that Alex was supposedly her soul mate? To me as a reader, she would have been a shallow and hypocritical character and the narrative would have been about titillation, not a true love story.
I based Annie’s passage from the depths of grief on research from grief counsellors and clinical psychologists. I also based it on firsthand information from those who have lost life-partners. How they coped or didn’t cope was hugely moving to me. And very revealing. In addition, and although this is slightly different, I based it on the kind of grief I experienced when I lost my parents. To a point, I also placed myself in Annie’s shoes, wondering what I would feel if I lost my husband, my soul mate, in a catastrophic accident.
It’s important to realise that Annie’s story isn’t a journey to find love again. It’s a journey of self-discovery, of realising that she can cope and that there is light at the end of a long and very dark tunnel. Maybe Annie doesn’t want to find love again. Alex was the love of her life, why would she want to replace him? My mother never ever wanted to replace my Dad and I would never want to replace my husband. What Annie is learning is emotional resilience, and it often takes a catastrophe to enable that.
All reviewers are subjective, speaking from the prism of their own experience. And against my better judgement, I think in this case the reviewer may not have thought outside the square. Passage is not a book about clichéd ‘love again’. This is a book about struggling to find oneself after love is lost.
It’s also a story about only one of the many types of grief. It was my intention when writing it to show exactly that.
And just cheekily, the much loved and respected Irish writer, Cathy Kelly, obviously found the true depths of the story when she gave it the seal of approval – ‘“What a beautiful book about loss and grief and learning to live again…a wonderfully moving novel.”