I’d heard a lot of good things about this book before I read it – so much so, in fact, that I wondered if it could possibly be as good as people said it was. Perversely, each glowing review I read moved this one further down my to-read pile, until last weekend when I finally decided to give it a go. After reading the first few pages, I realised something:
I’m a twat. It's brilliant.
So let me say first off that if you’re like me and have the same kind of grudging, disbelieving response to overwhelmingly positive reviews – don’t be a twat too. Especially as you’re about to read another review that sings this book's praises to high heaven and back round the yard again.
The Language Of Dying is a novella with a simple plot: five siblings gather at the house of their dying father, and the bonds between them weaken as their father’s body slowly fails in the room upstairs. Meanwhile, the unnamed narrator of the tale is waiting anxiously for the reappearance of the a fabulous beast she has seen outside of the window on other occasions of stress and trial... It's a powerful, at times difficult read, that doesn't flinch from the realities of a slow, drawn-out death that, let's face it, we're far more likely to end up facing than the gruesome deaths of most horror or crime fiction.
The beauty of the story (and it is beautiful) lies in its telling; it’s one of those books where you read an amazingly crafted, punchy sentence and think that you must remember it, only to read an even better sentence a few lines down that makes you forget the first one, and then you forget that one as you read yet another beautiful sentence on the next page... and so on. As befits the title, this is a book about words as much as about death. About how our words die, too.
In the end, this is a book that pulls off that magic trick that only fiction can do: reminding us of the universal by telling us of the specific. Quite simply, one of the most best books I've ever read.