Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Diving by Helen Walne #review

Title: The Diving
Author: Helen Walne
Publisher: Penguin Books SA, 2014

I’ve always enjoyed Helen Walne’s newspaper columns and, as it turns out, The Diving – her account of her relationship with her brother Richard, added further dimension to my appreciation of her talent.

Those who know Helen for her somewhat wry humour will see a contrasting side to her words, initially a serious examination of dealing with severe depression in a loved one and, thereafter, coping with a complex cocktail of guilt and bereavement.

It is immediately clear that Helen’s relationship with her brother was close, and that he was a large part of her life growing up and well into adulthood. She looked up to him, but also nurtured him.

Helen shares many memories of Richard, both good and bad, and we are left with a sense of her great helplessness while she did her utmost to help him. In the wake of his death, she almost foundered due to her crippling grief, and had her own journey to make through her personal bleakness before she was able to find fresh current.

Throughout the book she makes many profound statements that resonated powerfully. One such is “Grief is not a gift, no matter what New Age books tell us. It is not given to us. It happens to us. And even though I didn’t have to learn anything, I did gain new insights after Richard’s death.”

Helen’s observations are poignant and heartfelt – and she evokes her environment and the people who populate it with great vividness. In places, her signature humour is evident, tempered by her sorrow but redolent with incredible depth of feeling. This is not an easy book to read, because you know from the start what you’re in for, but as a personal account of those struggling in the aftermath of a suicide, it is rich in love despite the pain. And yes, the all-important letting go.

Helen has crafted a truly beautiful masterpiece that reaches beyond the page to kindle empathy and awe. This candid account of life, love and grief – and the complex entanglements of living with loved ones suffering from depression – deserves all the praise I can muster.

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