The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin
|The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Why would anyone want to read a touching, funny, life-affirming, love-affirming, well-researched, brilliantly written novel about someone dying of cancer? I suggest you read this and find out. (Although not recommended for public transport reading unless you consider snot-coated giggles a good look.)|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: January 2015|
|Publisher: Black Swan|
|External links: Author's website|
The three generations of the Hayes family are salt-of-the-Earth Irish: loud, brash, cussed, argumentative, full of tenaciousness and close. Now they need every ounce as 40 year old Rabbit – Molly and Jack's daughter, Grace and Davey's sister and 12 year old Juliet's mum - is dying of cancer. Each has to come to terms with it in their own way but no one wants to and they definitely won't let death get away with it without a fight, even if the weapons of choice are Molly's sharp tongue and a mug.
Irish writer and former stand-up comedian Anna McPartlin has done something odd. She's provided me with what could be my favourite book of 2015 and the publishing date is only 1st January! It's a story about dying and letting go and yet it's warm, life affirming and, in places, highly laugh out loud funny. I have never laughed, cried, giggled through tears or guffawed through heart-rending sobs before and I've been reading for over 50 years! I totally blame the Hayes's.
This is no little house on the Liffey family but one full of cracked humanity and characters that even the most jaded reader/reviewer will remember without the aid of notes. Via matriarchal Molly and her silently strong Jack right through to the guilt ridden drummer Davey, and Grace and Lenny's three typical teenage sons we're immediately pulled into the bosom of the family. Be it at Rabbit's bedside, going home with the tribe or nipping back in time to catch up with their respective pathways to this moment, we're given insight into the associated pressures and agony but not in a worthy way. Anna believes there's humour in even the darkest moments and here she proves it over and over.
Among the poignant moments and memories there are some great set pieces. Mothers of sons will smirk at Ryan feeling he's won when Grace and Lenny let him off his grounding, without him realising the reason. Even near the end when an author may be forgiven for becoming maudlin, Anna declines the option to treat us to the guffaw-worthy Operation Father Frank.
Some of the most touching moments surround Rabbit's mature, very aware Juliet as reality dawns. However, like the rest of the family, she isn't brave; she's normal. They just try to survive one moment to the next. Sometimes they manage, sometimes they fail epically while trying to hold onto the fact that in the midst of dying, there's still life.
Having said that, this isn't a sentimental tear fest. Ok there are many tears and a small chunk of sentiment as emotions are discussed but Anna doesn't wallow. In fact she surreptitiously slides in some considerations alongside the well-researched effects, reactions and palliative care procedures. How does a person of faith cope watching an atheist they love die? Vice versa, how does a dying atheist ensure that their Christian family uphold their final wishes? How do you cope with the pain of a less than perfect past when there's no time to make amends? How do you choose a new parent for your child?
Rabbit's cancer blog entries from her 4 year battle pepper the story. In one, written on the return of her cancer, Rabbit declares she wants to leave her daughter with a head full of memories and a heart full of love. To be honest, that's a pretty good description of how The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes left me and, I'm sure, will continue to leave me each of the many, many times I'll revisit the Hayes tribe.
(Thank you so much, Black Swan for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you enjoy the mixture of poignancy and laughter, we also recommend the award winning The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence and the excellent (and quirkily entitled) The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin at Amazon.com.
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