This novel reveals the terrible impact of silence upon a couple after tragedy occurs. Silent grief feeds blame & resentment which destroys any ability to communicate. When hard things remain unspoken between people then the distance grows exponentially.
One of the beautiful parts of this book is that it is about an ordinary man who decides to listen to himself & do something unusual for a friend dying of cancer. The story of his mistakes, success & determined choices is about his process along the way & how he changes and affects changes in others.
He has tremendous resolve and he is terribly discouraged as anyone is who does something courageous. He decides to walk over 500 miles to his friend. It’s the truth of this journey that captures the reader; from the band aids (plasters) & sore feet including his denial that she’ll recover because of his pilgrimage.
As Harold walks he reflects a lot on his life. The actual tragedy is not revealed until the end. The way their silence piles up in impossible layers is the second tragedy that still might be repaired……or not, which is true of so many couples. It is powerful to read about the wife’s struggle to think kinder thoughts, and not be able to squeak the words out because of her habit of anger.
The purpose of anger is to create distance and says “I’m important.” It can be a very useful tool. Harold’s wife demonstrates that a habit of anger is an entirely different story and leads to the lonely path of bitterness. I often caution those who start down this path because it is such an awful choice for the soul. Bitterness becomes a comforting prison that’s hard to leave.
Harold makes the mistakes of those who are kind to a fault. I found myself wincing and wishing he was more self protective, but that’s the point; he has to find his way despite his strengths & weaknesses (just like we all do).
Silence has the power of erosion on a relationship. It seems so impossible to say what’s real about who we are and what we feel on our insides. It is a tragedy when two people grow apart without the words that can create an understanding.
Tragedy has this effect on people. This includes our recent experience with Hurricane Sandy on the east coast. It really matters that families take time to ask each other: “What was the hardest part for you?” Don’t let the silence of grief keep you encapsulated in your aloneness. Struggle to share the words that are trapped inside.
My favorite literary award is the Man Booker out of England & this novel made the long list of 12, though not the final list of 6. This is a first novel for the author & actress Rachel Joyce.