I first came across Sarah Pinborough when I reviewed her foray into young adult fiction but she is better known as a horror writer (and is, therefore, a favourite of our occasional guest blogger Charlotte!). I am not, by choice, much of a horror reader even though I read lots of Stephen King in my teens but I was intrigued by the plot synopsis of this book. It didn’t seem to be horror, or young adult, or, well, anything easily definable to be fair. It was a 2013 reissue of a 2009 publication and was coming into paperback in December 2016 – this is obviously a book which was waiting for its time to shine.
And shine it does. Darkly. A young woman waits for the inevitable death of her father. He has lived life to the full, if not well, but is now facing the last stages of lung cancer. His middle child (who narrates the book but never gives her name) lives with him after the failure of her marriage and the bulk of the book is about how she and her siblings come to terms with this potential loss. Although this is a short book we get to know the family pretty well – everybody’s flaws are laid out for us including the narrator’s reported habit of daydreaming or drifting – and very little detail is spared in the descriptions of the father’s final illness. This is not the dignified death which film and tv would have us believe in but something very real. I would be totally unsurprised to hear that Pinborough has some personal experience of this – I know authors can do research but the physical and emotional responses seem so spot on that this reads like something more than just good research. There is also a second layer to this book – a sort of undercurrent of the otherworldly where an apparently mythical beast (something like a large and ferocious horse) appears behind the family home at times of stress. I saw it as representing something the narrator wishes she was able to do – to escape from reality, from pain and from loss – but is not able to follow through on until her father’s inevitable death.
P.S. I stopped mid-review here as a good friend’s Dad died while I was writing. I’d like to dedicate this to R’Jim…