The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

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The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A gem of a story about love, about marrage and about loss. The characters are so good you feel that you know them well. Highly recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Chatto and Windus
ISBN: 978-0701187194

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Aaron's wife, Dorothy, was killed in an accident. An oak tree fell on their home, demolishing the sun porch where Dorothy happened to be at the time. He worried that if he had done things differently (a matter of some biscuits and a television set) Dorothy might not have been where she was and might still be alive and for a while he camped out in the wrecked house until further damage forced him to move in with his sister. It was then that he realised that Dorothy wasn't really dead - well, not dead as we understand it - as she materialised in odd places, wearing the clothes she used to wear and eventually staying with Aaron for longer periods of time. And gradually they began to bicker, just like a long-married couple...

Leaving the house freed Aaron of the endless procession of casseroles and food which arrived on his step before he came home from work each evening. Much of it he had to throw away as the fridge was permanently stuffed. But there were downsides to moving in with his sister too. Nandina was, well, controlling and given that he already worked with her in the family publishing business, he did wonder if spending the rest of the day in her home might be a step too far. Still, by concentrating on the Beginner's Guides (which are the main income stream for the family firm) and the builder who seems more than happy to consult with him at his sister's home to save him from his wrecked house he gets by between those visits from Dorothy.

There's a problem with this book: it's absolutely delightful and should be three, four times as long so that it can be read over several days, picked up in every spare moment with interruptions fiercely resented. Instead I had to make do with nothing more than a glorious afternoon when I didn't move from the moment that I opened the book until I turned the final page.

The characters are perfect. Aaron has disabilities - although he wouldn't thank you for saying so. A childhood illness left him needing a leg brace and cane but he still resented being 'a cause' for many of the young women when he was at college. Dorothy was rather older than Aaron, ungainly and not always conscious of the niceties of life. Initially she didn't even appreciate the form for going out to a good restaurant and arrived wearing her white doctor's coat. The quality of the characterisation is best demonstrated by a walk-on part - the young widow whom the family tried to pair off with Aaron. She was a (supposedly) professional editor who described something as very unique and prefaced most of what she had to say with are you sitting down? Superb. Absolutely superb.

It's a character-driven novel but the story is a gentle and thoughtful exploration of the nature of love and of marriage, but also of how life moves on in the most unexpected ways. I was captivated. The sudden death of a relatively young person could make for depressing reading but it's one of the most uplifting books I've read for quite a while. Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Noah's Compass and Vinegar Girl also by Anne Tyler.

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Buy The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler at


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