|Stammered Songbook: A Mother's Book of Hours by Erwin Mortier and Paul Vincent (translator)|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: If the term 'misery memoir' did not exist it would have to be invented for this superlative, literary example of the form.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 176||Date: March 2015|
|Publisher: Pushkin Press|
|External links: Author's website|
A chateau in the country. So far, a fine life behind you. Just 65 years of age. A happy collection of three successful children. Alzheimer's. You work out what's the one bummer in that circumstance.
Erwin Mortier has been on my radar for some time as an author of novels that certainly sounded highly interesting. This break from the norm is his journals regarding his mother's descent into illness, presented as if it were a daily exercise in capturing his thoughts and the disease's progress. (Only later on does that seem a fictional construct, when the selection of a home and the tour that leads to the consequent decision whether to choose it or not, seem to take too long.)
With his literary bent it's the words he starts to focus on – although never to the detriment of how eagerly readable this traumatic yet warming literature can be. How rich is it that a mother of a noted author cannot get the word 'book' through to and beyond her lips? Other instances follow, but worse is surely yet to come – Edwin becomes just an entity that fails to compute, and his father becomes more and more of his mother's essential companion and lifeline. But is that worse than the lack of language? – there remains enough in the lady's eyes, but no communication. Surely the annoying, damnably 'rich' fact of the situation is that a previously eloquent person cannot convey what is befalling her – what would her wishes in her situation be?
Packing a punch belonging to its brevity, this book is the pinnacle for me of the genre known as 'misery memoir'. It has a plot, it has concision, it has focus on one side of life that a memoir demands to separate it from straight autobiography, and it has personable, strong characters that you instantly care for. If any of that points to aspects of Mortier's career in fiction, then it really must be a fine one and this will only inspire me to try and prove that. But this is definitely its own book, produced for even more personal reasons than merely telling a fictional story, and providing just as much emotional integrity and impact as any of the best novels.
The circumstances here are important to all, whatever their relation to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. As Mortier says, he imagined his life with his ageing mother to be so very different to how it pans out on these pages. We would all do the same, but should that nightmare befall us, it should be to pages like these I would turn, to seek their wise authority, and a great description of a family's love. Until then, it has more than enough quality to make anyone very glad to have read it.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
For a practical guide on this matter, to vitally make the reader never feel alone, we would suggest Dementia: The One-Stop Guide: Practical advice for families, professionals, and people living with dementia and Alzheimer's Disease by June Andrews.
You can read more book reviews or buy Stammered Songbook: A Mother's Book of Hours by Erwin Mortier and Paul Vincent (translator) at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Stammered Songbook: A Mother's Book of Hours by Erwin Mortier and Paul Vincent (translator) at Amazon.com.
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