The narrator is a psychiatrist, whose elder brother died in front of his eyes when he was a little boy. He is now the therapist for a woman who had attempted suicide. In the course of their conversations they achieve a mutual understanding of the difficulties involved in continuing to live after bereavement; they also appreciate Caravaggio.
It shows the insight into the human condition which is typical of books by Salley Vickers although it never achieved the transcendence of Miss Garnett's Angel (another book about life, death, spirituality and art) or Mr Golightly's Holiday (in which God visits the England). But she writes beautifully.
Lots of great moments:
- "Living in the world is hard enough, but if you see through it, yet lack the resources to deal with that keener vision, it can be a whole lot harder." (1.2)
- "She was saved by one of those chances that make you believe in a beneficent providence. I don't know why there shouldn't be one: there's plenty of evidence of the baleful kind." (1.2)
- "It can take years to understand in your head what your gut knows from the start." (1.3)
- "The worst thing about ageing is not the physical diminishment. My belief that I am equal to ordinary events and encounters is beginning to be eroded. I am apprehensive now over matters that would have been unimaginable to me" (1.3)
- "As with many of his other associations, Gus appeared to have some informal access to the mind of God." (1.7)
- "A peeling leather armchair that put me in mind of a rhinoceros with dermatitis." (1.9)
- "It's naive to pretend that life for many people isn't pretty wretched much of the time." (2.4)
- "We never make anyone happy who does not make us happy." (2.4)
- "On the map of human choice, there are highways and byways, crossroads and narrow tracks, and cul-de-sacs. And along these routes are to be found abodes of graciousness, citadels and hovels, palaces and boltholes. And there are the houses of shame into which we creep because we feel we are worth no better." (2.4)
- "When you feel you have made true love, you believe you've found a back door into eternity and cannot afford the notion that it may not be open to you on your return." (2.5)
- "What's wrong with bad behaviour?" (2.7)
- "The desolating atmosphere of a polite suburb of Hell." (2.8)
- "Clergy tend to attract transferences the way psychiatrists and analysts do, but they aren't as a rule so prepared for them." (2.8)
- "I have no idea what precise words I used; I can only say they seemed to issue unedited from my disencumbered heart." (4.2)
A slow burner with little in the way overt excitement, but worth it by the end.
December 2020; 262 pages
Also by Salley Vickers: The Cleaner of Chartres