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The Language of Dying

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In this emotionally gripping, genre-defying novella from Sarah Pinborough, a woman sits at her father's bedside, watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life. Her brothers and sisters--she is the middle child of five--have all turned up over the past week to pay their last respects. Each is traumatized in his or her own way, and the bonds that unite them to each other are fragile--as fragile perhaps as the old man's health.

With her siblings all gone, back to their self-obsessed lives, she is now alone with the faltering wreck of her father's cancer-ridden body. It is always at times like this when it--the dark and nameless, the impossible, presence that lingers along the fringes of the dark fields beyond the house--comes calling.

As the clock ticks away in the darkness, she can only wait for it to find her, a reunion she both dreads and aches for...

144 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Sarah Pinborough

86 books5,931 followers
Sarah Pinborough is a New York Times bestselling and Sunday Times Number one and Internationally bestselling author who is published in over 30 territories worldwide. Having published more than 25 novels across various genres, her recent books include Behind Her Eyes, now a smash hit Netflix limited series, Dead To Her, now in development with Amazon Studios, and 13 Minutes and The Death House in development with Compelling Pictures. Sarah lives in the historic town of Stony Stratford, the home of the Cock and Bull story, with her dog Ted. Her next novel, Insomnia, is out in 2022. You can follow Sarah on Twitter at @sarahpinborough.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 389 reviews
Profile Image for Kristin (KC).
251 reviews25.1k followers
March 17, 2017
*5 stars*

For its beautiful prose, unflinching honesty, and ability to carry us straight to the unnerving perimeters of death to witness the unraveling—I believe this book deserves no less than 5 stars.

The Language of Dying is a quick read, but there is so much conveyed in so few words, and not a speck of it is written in vain. It candidly explores the depths of mortality, narrowing in on a sick man’s final days of life as his dignity deteriorates even more quickly than his body.

This glimpse is forceful, and doesn’t pretend that death is simple or graceful or anything less than a red-eyed monster of the night who strips you of your sanity and blurs that fragile line between reality and imagination.

It is pain—in its purest form.

This story is told through the perspective of a distraught woman watching her father lie helpless in his bed of death as cancer slowly and unmercifully claims his life. But we don’t feel his pain, we feel hers; she who is left to linger.

Although he is the one gasping for air as he coughs up his cancer, and he is the one wasting away from his inability to eat or drink because the end is aggressively washing over him, it is her death we are made to feel.

We don’t learn her name, just her agony.

Through her eyes, we see the death of her father, but it is the quiet death of her spirit that we are bound to consume. Because how does watching a loved one die not kill pieces of you in the process?

With her mother long gone and her siblings estranged and scattered, her father is the last bit of glue loosely holding their dysfunctional family together. One by one, they gather to his side in reluctance, but the glue is dried up and peeling away, and they know their already battered bond will soon die along with him.

There’s much sadness lurking in these pages, a sadness mixed heavily with fear. Because, as morbid as it sounds, we will all eventually take these characters places at some point, as the dying and the one sitting helplessly by. And as cruel as it will seem, the life around us will still go on. But after pain comes healing, even if we have to chase after it, hunting it down in the middle of the night just to feel a bit of its warmth.

Although this book is not meant to be a consolation, one can draw comfort in their relation to these words; to these feelings; to the shortcomings of these characters. Above all else, this book is real. It showcases our weakness when faced with death, and life in general. It represents our selfishness and our guilt, and it awkwardly hugs us and tells us that it is okay to not be okay. It is normal to feel so abnormal…to lose it, sometimes.

I didn't really want to let this story in, but I really didn't have a choice. I read this in a constant “choked up” state—needing to stop here and there to catch some air because it is that consuming. It is beautiful in its honesty, and it is beautiful through even its ugliest descriptions. The writing is eloquent and impactful, and just so clever that my eyes were not allowed to glide, but forced to linger and devour and even reread.

Yes, I would recommend this a thousand times over—to those who think they're strong enough to handle the cold reality of death in their fiction, to those who think they're far too weak to try, and to those who need to feel a little less alone in their grief.

(But especially to you, Karen-- because you're on the fence and you need to climb over and NOT pass this one up!;)

Although this book in its entirety is worthy of a highlight, here are some excerpts that really stood out:
"There is a language to the dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy. It is a secret hushed thing that lives in the whisper of the nurses’ skirts as they rustle up ad down our stairs…”

“My eyes adjust to the dark and I make patterns out of the shadows and shapes of the plastered ceiling. I think it’s human nature, isn't it? To look for patterns or meaning in things.”

“…its red eyes glow angrily and through the glass I can see hot steam charge from its flared nostrils as it paws the ground. I think perhaps it is blacker than the night, its mane shining as it is tossed this way and that. I am not sure whether it is beautiful or ugly, but I know that it’s wonderful.”

“You look so sick. You’ve given up. You haven't drunk anything. I think this should surely be enough to make death take over. I am wrong of course. You have so much more dying to do yet. You have to become so much less before you go.”

*Huge thanks to publisher for providing Arc via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews679 followers
January 17, 2018
A women reflects on her life as she waits for her father to die. He is in the last stages of lung cancer after a life of chain smoking and her older sister has come to help her in the last few days. She is the middle child, sandwiched between two older children and two younger, and has always felt closest to their father. His impending death though only highlights the dysfunction of the siblings relationship and forces her to reflect on their own struggles and self destruction.

Spoilers, maybe? I liked how the book was written, though it took a while for me to get into it. It felt pretty jarring and fragmented in the beginning but it is clearly intentional and does add to the whole tone of the book. I also enjoyed the really physical description of how the women was feeling, it really added to the whole detached feeling. The book did a pretty good job portraying mental illness in a way that I liked where it didn't feel exaggerated or done for the sake of shock if that makes sense. Like her brother's struggles with addiction and her other brothers constant overzealous exertions that end in him hiding away. Even the women's own domestic abuse and 'drifting' all felt like things that can happen to anyone and more real to me.

I really also liked the whole magic realism thing going on with the horse and death, that was pretty cool. Some of the writing was more poetic and it kind of bordered on getting to be too much for me, but I do get pretty emotional so I don't handle writing that is more emotional or sentimental as well. I felt it particular in the beginning but as with the fragmented writing I got some what eased into it as I kept going. Enjoyed the book overall and it wasn't very long so I finished it up in a sitting which is always a plus.
Profile Image for Chelsea *Slowly Catching Up* Humphrey.
1,390 reviews77.2k followers
March 26, 2017
This will be a teeny tiny review for a teeny tiny book, but just know it deserves no less than 5 stars in my book. This would be a fantastic gateway book for those looking to enter the magical realism realm without going hardcore right away. Books with cancer patients always get me, since my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer back in 2008. Hallelujah she has been in full remission since then (!!!), but it still always makes me weepy reading about other's stories, real or not. This particular one is set around a very sick man and his family's interactions during the last hours of his life.

Clearly the plot is slim and not even the main focus of the book, so let's just leave it alone and move along. This story was beautiful, tragic, heavy, and poetic all at once; I picked this up on a Sunday evening and read it's entirety in one sitting, though you could easily take your time and soak up every detail if you chose to. I was particularly moved by the final segments where we walk through the process of dying. Even though I'm still young and hopefully not near my time to go, there was something very scary and disturbing about experiencing these final moments with this sick man and his family. I had to pause at moments to just take in what I was reading and the heavy finality it brought to the story. Needless to say, if you are looking for a book that will sweep you out of your life for a brief moment, one that is gorgeously haunting and will stick with you, this is it.

*I'd like to thank the publisher for providing my copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and fair review.
Profile Image for karen.
3,968 reviews170k followers
August 18, 2018
this is kind of like a grownup version of A Monster Calls. it’s not a perfect readalike, but it features the same kind of magical realism spin on the experience of death and the grieving process, complete with a supernatural manifestation of that process - all rage and pain and hoof-stomping power.

however, the magic in this is not central to the story - it is an occasional grace note in an otherwise unflinchingly realistic depiction of a woman’s experience caring for her beloved father as cancer devours him piece by piece.

there’s nothing gentle or sugar-coated here; this isn’t about the nobility of facing death after a life well-lived, or clinging to life and family with grit and determination, fighting disease with willpower and love. it’s more medical journal than hallmark card - unsparing in its descriptions of the deterioration of the body and mental state of the terminally ill, through the eyes of a loving daughter who isn’t ready to let go of her father; uncertain of what her world will become once he is gone. in this tiny book, we are taken through the memories of her life and her father’s place in it, in sickness and in health, and how his passing will likely sever all ties between five siblings already scattered by their life choices.

it’s only 130 pages, the narrator isn’t even given a name, and it ends on a symbolic and highly ambiguous note, but it doesn’t lose any of its potency for being so streamlined and open to interpretation, because the parts that matter, the parts that resonate and speak to the thing that binds us all - our mortality - are very well-explored, indeed, whether death comes for us suddenly, or as a horrible slow decline. (see who by fire or The Gashlycrumb Tinies for some of the variety of ways we can be felled)

many thanks to kristin KC for her generous contribution to my appreciation of all things sad, even though, alas - no weeping from me.

wow. i don't even know what to make of this one yet. need to let the emotional sediment settle.

i'll be back.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,440 reviews29.4k followers
March 30, 2017
"It's been a long few months and, even though time has folded from the first diagnosis to now, my body and soul know that I have lived through every painful second of it. They sing it to me through aching limbs and a torn heart."

A woman's father is in the last few days of his life, as he is dying from cancer. She has cared for him through his illness, watching his body and his mind deteriorate. She wants his suffering to end, but fears what the end of that suffering will mean for her life.

Her siblings have all come to the house they grew up in, now her house, to pay their last respects. Their family has been fractured emotionally for years, with each of them having suffered traumas, some known and some hidden. But even coming together for one purpose, saying goodbye to their father, is fraught with disaster.

The woman herself has had her share of trauma and tragedy, which has left her angry, somewhat unstable, and knowing she may never have the chance to be happy ever again. But she has given everything she has to care for his father and make his last days as comfortable and secure as possible.

Ever since she was a child, she has had visions of a nameless presence, hulking, alone, and waiting for her. She only sees it at certain moments, and she knows that it will come again. But it is a reunion she fears and welcomes, because what will it mean for her if she finally connects with it?

Sarah Pinborough's Behind Her Eyes (see my original review) was tremendously unforgettable because of its WTF ending, but also because of how her storytelling ability helped the book transcend an immensely implausible plot. But as strong as her writing was in that book, it really didn't prepare me for the sheer power and beauty of her writing in The Language of Dying .

Stripped of any artifice, there is poetry and emotion that characterizes Pinborough's writing in this book. Anyone who has seen a loved one suffer from a terminal illness will probably recognize some of the feelings and situations the narrator experiences, the simultaneous desire and dread that the person's battle will end. But while there are certainly moments that may make you cry, this is not an emotionally manipulative book, but rather a tremendously contemplative one.

If the pain of loss is still fresh, reading this book may reopen those wounds. But this is an immensely beautiful book, one which demands to be read, one which will wow and dazzle on the power of its words and its emotions.

NetGalley and Quercus (US) provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
August 14, 2016
5 stars for emotional potency. I expect this book will resonate tremendously with anyone who has sat throughout the last days with a dying parent, partner or close friend. It certainly brought me right back to my father's side, while he was in palliative care a few years ago as he was dying of pancreatic cancer. The inner thoughts, the quiet communication, the tumultuous emotions, the odd roads your memory takes you down, the shared anger, frustration, love and even humour with other relatives and friends, the selfish sense of being the only one able to decode gestures and looks, and in the end watching one breath, and then another breath, wondering whether there will more breaths, hoping there will and hoping there won't. Yup, this may hit some people at a very personal level. The end of this short narrative and the tinge of magic realism may be a bit hard to take for some. But, to me, this was sparse, emotional and beautifully done. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy. And thanks to a few GR friends for bringing this book to my attention.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,852 reviews35k followers
April 5, 2017
I hated this book - and now I can't sleep. Why the hell did I read it????? That's my biggest question ---why the hell did I read THIS book? I didn't 'need' it.....nor did I take away anything new that I didn't already know.
I wasn't uplifted - it wasn't enjoyable - Yet... I read the whole damn thing!

I did appreciate and respect Sarah Pinborough's opening .......
"There is a language to dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy. It is a secret hushed thing that lives in a whisper of the nurses' skirts as they rustle up and down our stairs. They've taught me to face the language one syllable at a time, slowly creating an unwilling meaning."
Terminal agitation
The agitations are ending. The Cheyne-Stoking is beginning. ( when a person is dying they move into this next cycle- their last living cycle- before death)

Honestly---though, I felt sick reading this book. I would have been better off having skipped this--- and I rarely say that about anything I read.

This book did NOT give me comfort. I honestly didn't really need to re-visit my own past memories..... of watching A SLOW DEATH OF A LOVED ONE.
BUT .... hey.....This book gave many readers 'something' - so they win: they benefit!

Yes, Sara Pinborough described what it feels like to wish the dying person - would either come back or leave completely....as the in-between is no good for anyone.....
Yes, Sara describes what it feels like to be closed off from the the world -seldom leaving the house. Lots of tea and more chocolate biscuits than a person would ever normally eat.
But....the characters were weak. REALLY REALLY WEAK!!!!
There are two twins in this story. One paranoid schizophrenic and the other a junkie... but that's ALL we know about them. All we learn is, "our family has so much color that brightness is damaging". WHAT? That tells me NOTHING! - so I'm left with this image of these twins and their challenges with no history -and on with the show. Tea anyone? I'm not sure WHY this lyrical language is beautiful if it doesn't communicate.

I'll get off my 'whatever'..... something about this book - and me reading it - ( the combination) pissed me off! I still can't sleep - I'll reach for a more enjoyable book!

Profile Image for Debbie.
425 reviews2,693 followers
March 21, 2017

This one totally knocked my socks off. What a secret gem and one of my favorites this year! This is the story of a daughter tending to her dying father, told in first person. The voice pulled me right in to the secret chamber of wise thoughts and heavy emotions, and it never let me out. There is a subtleness to the emotion, a quietness, and it made its way into my soul. I wanted to bottle up the language and set it on my shelf as a tonic when I’m feeling down.

Wow, this book is making me want to be all serious and poetic. It’s just that I was in love with it and when you’re in love, you start talking all weird and dreamy.

Here’s how the book opens:

“There is a language to dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy. It is a secret hushed thing that lives in the whisper of the nurses’ skirts as they rustle up and down our stairs. They’ve taught me to face the language one syllable at a time, slowing creating an unwilling meaning.”

Another favorite:

“Sometimes there are just too many words filling up space and not enough emptiness left for thinking. I keep a little emptiness inside for when I need it.”

I identified with this last quote bigtime. I’ve just returned from a tour of Scotland, which included non-stop history lessons. I’m not into history (tell me about live people, not dead ones, please). Many times I screamed in my head—as I’ve done in the past, many times—“Stop it! Please! I can’t hear myself think!” I missed being able to be inside my head without constant interruption of facts facts facts. I did get pretty good at tuning out the history lessons, so I guess I kept a little emptiness inside when I needed it.

This book isn’t big on plot; it’s big on psychological insight. Even without a fast plot, it’s a fast read (except when you stop to savor, which I did frequently). It’s not a long book, so that’s another reason you can zip through it.

There is some insightful sibling interaction, as the siblings come for one last visit to their dying dad. I identified with the narrator in some ways—she is the middle of 5 children, so am I. She’s the daydreamer of the group, so am I. Of course this made me even more glued to the page.

There is a little magical realism, which I think is supposed to have more importance than I am giving it. Magical realism usually doesn’t work for me, but I have a trick now. Like with The Enchanted (an all-time favorite book I read in 2015), in this book I interpret the magical realism as something inside the head of the narrator—as imagination. The trick worked with both books, yay yay yay! The term “magical realism” no longer sends me running the other way.

I have a big problem with how Goodreads categorizes this book. It lists in this order, “Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Contemporary, Magical Realism, Novella.” This is all wrong, in my humble opinion. “Contemporary Fiction” should lead the list, “Magical Realism” should be next, and the list should end with “Novella” (for those who just HAVE to know that it’s a short book). But “Fantasy”? No. And “Horror” is just plain wrong! There’s not any horror—I do not read horror, period. If I had looked at the categories before picking the book up, I probably would not have read it. The author’s bio shows that she writes fantasy and horror, so I think that’s how this book got wrongly categorized.

I will say that despite its lusciousness, it’s a gloomy book, and I guess I’d have trouble recommending it to the world because of that. Some people just don’t like to read something depressing. For me, “upbeat’ is not a requirement—if a book is brilliant (and not gory), it’s perfect, regardless of the tone. The depressing part of the story is in the last quarter, when the narrator is describing the intricate and personal and physical horrors of dying. I used to be able to read about the process of dying without twitching so uncomfortably, but now that I’m older, I think it’s closer and scarier, and it left me feeling unsettled, to say the least. Still, I’m in awe of this writer’s skill, and the book had a big impact on me. I will be checking out Pinborough’s other work, I guarantee you.

5 stars, no questions asked.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
350 reviews394 followers
June 13, 2016
I have no words to describe how deeply touching this book is. We all come face to face with the death of a loved one at some point in our lives. I just love a book with amazing writing, and Sarah Pinborough is simply a master with words. She describes what it is like for the middle daughter, the one who has lived with her father, the tightness of their bond, what it is like now that he is slipping away. How siblings show up to help, some surprise while others disappoint. And will this bring them closer together or tear them apart. All of it felt so real to me, even the touches of magical realism were nothing less than brilliant. Beautiful and heartfelt, I won't forget this one!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,687 reviews14k followers
June 20, 2016
A novella about a man and his daughter, the daughter who has watched over him as lay dying. The man who raised his family of five after his wife and their mother left him. This daughter is the middle one, and as she watches and speaks to him we learn her backstory, the events in her life that made her return to this house. Although the three brothers and her older sister come home to say goodbye they all leave again and it is only her, the father and whatever is waiting for her.

A wonderfully written book, albeit grim about a family who has suffered its fair share of trials. A difficult subject to say the least and yet one we will all face at one times or another in our lives. The author uses magical realism to great effect and I was a bit surprised by the ending. A very different but good story.

ARC from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,169 reviews1,214 followers
June 1, 2016
I received a copy of The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to NetGalley and to Sarah Pinborough for the opportunity.

Death is the Great Equalizer.

Death fails to note if it has arrived far before one's first breath was ever taken. It never keeps track of the breaths unnoticed until the last one comes too soon.

A house is in near darkness and there sits The One. The One is The Watcher who keeps vigilance with her back poised against Good Intentions. Eyes stare into nothingness and nothingness stares back. "But then love clings on, doesn't it?"

The woman leaves the room on tiptoe to answer the door. Penny, her older sister, embraces her. Penny avoids going up the stairs to encounter her invalid father whose days are overshadowed by the cancer that ravages within him. Soon the twin brothers arrive and yet another brother, Paul. Each of the late arrivals perches on a chair and chain smokes or snacks. Let no hand be idle. Let no mind teeter on the brink of what surely is to happen.

Conversations take place and yet words are not spoken. And life intrudes as it always does. And the roles that we assign to ourselves take precedence over everything. The excuses are made and the little band of brothers and sister take leave with promises to return. To settle matters.....the matters that override the daunting present.

But The One remains. She waits with those same eyes. But this time she finds that elusive voice. The voice that can only unburden the soul in whispers. She tells her father of her past and pours her heavy regrets into a stone chalice as an offering. It is enough. It will always be enough.

Sarah Pinborough presents a flawed family and their interactions with one another in the darkness of their father's last days. It is truly an emotional read because you will see mirror images of yourself or perhaps even your own reality. The words will leave their mark on your conscience. "I kiss your head. I leave my love there forever."

But The One will meet her Stronger Self in the night. You'll see.....

Profile Image for Melissa.
647 reviews28.6k followers
September 17, 2016
Don’t let the length fool you, this quick snapshot of a story packs one heck of an emotional punch. With a somber and reflective tone, the author explores the painful reality of death and those we leave behind.

This meaningful story centers around five siblings returning home to face the haunting memories of their childhood and one another; in the midst of their father’s death. He’s slowly withering away and it’s incredibly sad and humbling to watch. Naturally, it made me contemplate how precious life truly is and just how excruciating it would be for anyone in this situation. And while this might sound morbid, I had to ask myself - would it be better to go suddenly and save those you love from this painful waiting game of sorts?

There are plenty of cracks and divisions among the siblings; how could there not be? Life has dragged each of them in different directions and chunks of time have passed. The harsh reality is, it’s taken a death to bring them all together.

Told through the eyes of the middle child, a nearly 40-year-old woman, whose prone to drifting off in her own mind, the story is almost poetic in a way. For me, it reiterated how important it is to let go of the past and make more of an effort. That despite the years, the distance or the words that have gone unspoken, the familial connection will always remain.
"Even when by rights it has no place left to be, love is hard to kill. Like life. And sometimes, like life, it takes you completely by surprise."
I have to mention the ending. There’s a part of me that’s almost embarrassed to admit this, but seriously, I didn't get it. Was a part of it only a figment of her imagination? I’m confused. . .

*Thank you to Quercus/Jo Fletcher Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,218 reviews512 followers
August 14, 2016
Very powerful view of a family coping, or not, with the actuality of the father's impending death, told through the middle daughter's perspective. The emotions are raw and the physical details are real. The family dynamics complex but also well explained. The ending...Well I was holding my breath.

This is not an easy book to read; how could it be. But it is, in its own way, somehow satisfying emotionally. Definitely recommended.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Karen R.
829 reviews488 followers
August 20, 2016
A woman is taking care of her dying father. When his death is imminent, she calls in her four siblings who all arrive to pay their last respects. There is conflict and resentment as each copes with their dad’s impending death. Clearly, they use different coping mechanisms that lead to misunderstandings and anger. This difficult time will change relationships but will it divide or bring them closer? I was hopeful for the latter. I lost my own father in May to a long-lasting horrible illness and one of my three siblings was his caregiver. This made for an even more emotional read as I made comparisons to my own experience. Bits hit close to home. This is a short but deeply moving story.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,369 reviews787 followers
January 4, 2022
“‘Your father is moving into the next stage. His breathing will slow. The pauses between each breath will get longer and longer. It’s called Cheyne-Stoking. He’s not there yet, but I think in the next day or so.’

She doesn’t need to point out the rest. The rest I understand. ‘Chain-smoking leads to Cheyne-Stoking.’ The little rhyme forms a rhythm in my empty thinking space. The rhythm is like hooves on tarmac.”

She is the one who came home. Five children—two older, both successful, younger twin brothers, both troubled. Their mother stormed out in their youth after years of “slurring arguments that spark from nothing on the dry, dead twigs of our parents’ marriage”.

She, our narrator, thought she’d escaped her own hell when she returned to buy the family home and let her father take off and travel, but she’d brought her torment with her. We’re listening to her 'talk' to her father throughout, sometimes in her head and sometimes actually aloud while he’s more or less asleep.

When he returned to what is now her home, she supported him during the smelly, painful decline of his self-inflicted terminal condition, about which she pulls no punches. It’s unpleasant, to put it mildly.

She refers to him as their Mad Dad, who put vodka on his cornflakes and continued smoking to the end, saying it would be a bit hypocritical to give it up now, wouldn’t it?

“You were always going to come here. Back home with the middle child. The pivot, the hinge between the ‘normal’ of Paul and Penny and the strange, mad world of the boys; sometimes tilting this way and sometimes that. In both camps and yet neither.”

Older sister Penny declares that of course Dad could have come to stay with her, but . . . Penny doesn’t do ‘hard’. She is an attractive, always perfectly presented woman, a mother, very different from her younger sister who seems to have had more ‘hard’ in her life than anyone should.

There are hospice carers and nurses who come and go, and all the siblings eventually come home to see their father and eat copious amounts of bacon sandwiches. She and Penny reminisce cheerfully over bottles of wine, the remains of which and the morphine, etc. will have to be hidden when the druggie twin comes.

Paul arrives, and he and Penny go into older sibling mode. The twins arrive and are an automatic twosome as well. Again, she's Piggy in the Middle, the fifth wheel, the odd one out.

All pay quick visits to Dad, but Davey is the only one who can bear to physically help carry and bathe him. Everyone stays over, but they jump at the chance to leave when she says she and the nurses can manage.

“They sip their tea and pretend they’re not in a hurry to get out, but I see through their cracks. Just like I think they’re starting to see through mine.”

They’re all aware that she sometimes tunes out, switches off, and escapes into her 'dark drift', as she calls it, staring blankly out a window, only to 'awake', not sure how much time has passed. But they leave her alone anyway.

An excellent look at the frayed ties between siblings. I particularly identified with the guilt the kids feel when they laugh over shared memories and then worry they will hurt their father's feelings if he hears them. How dare they laugh at a time like this? But we do, and we all escape in our own ways.

Excellent story that says a lot in a short space. A wonderful but difficult read for anyone who's suffered through a similar situation.

Thanks to the author, NetGalley and Quercus (US) for a copy to review. I believe it was published first in 2009. Glad I found it this time.
Profile Image for Taryn.
325 reviews294 followers
June 8, 2016
An emotionally raw novella about caring for a dying parent, dysfunctional family relationships, and depression.

There is a language to dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy. It is a secret hushed thing that lives in the whisper of the nurses’ skirts as they rustle up and down our stairs. They’ve taught me to face the language one syllable at a time, slowly creating an unwilling meaning.

As a woman sits beside her dying father's bedside, she reflects on the events that shaped her dysfunctional family's circumstances and the events that led her back to her childhood home. Caring for her father in his last months and the ups and downs of life have taken an enormous emotional toll on her, but she is the only one in her family who was up for the task. Spending time with her father during his final transition has given them a strong and unique bond. The tender way she cares for him is extremely touching. She refers to her father as "you," so the book reads like she is writing him a letter. It feels deeply personal, like a memoir. The tone is melancholic. I really liked the concepts of time folding and "the drift" that reappear throughout the book.

Most things in life change gradually. Events creep up on you from behind just like the language. You barely notice the beginnings; it’s only when things go terribly wrong that we wipe the sleep from our eyes and wail miserably, ‘How the hell did that happen?’

The narrator has been alone in caring for her father after his cancer diagnosis. In his final days, the narrator's four siblings return to the family home. "The beginning of the putting-back-together before we fall apart." There have always been unofficial alliances between the siblings; the oldest two are only a year apart and have always had a special connection and the youngest two, twins, have their own unique bond. The narrator was always on her own, matched to her father due to circumstance.

The boys share a smile over something Penny has said and I can almost see their childish faces shimmering under the worn skin they have now. Only just, but the traces are still there. That makes me sadder than if they had been gone forever and I go to the sink and slowly wash up, hiding in the task.

While the narrator has a reputation for being a dreamer, she is the only one who is able to directly confront the reality of what is happening to the father. "And they think I’m the one lost in my own world. I guess sometimes you have to hide from the world to see it properly." The scenes where the siblings came together was heartwarming (and made me feel nostalgic), but inevitably they all reveal their true selves through their cracks. Personalities clash and old resentments flare. There is an emotional scene where the narrator unleashes her rage at her older brother. She can't remember what she said in her tirade and the words are never revealed to the reader, yet the moment is so raw and honest.

There is no laughter now, no tall tales, just a man who can’t deal with losing his father. Or maybe can’t deal with the process of losing his father. I wish he could get a glimpse of other people and see that they feel and think, just like he does. Maybe then he’d realise that none of us can deal with it. We just have to suck it up and get on with it.

As I expected from the gorgeous book cover and the Neil Gaiman blurb, there is a smidge of fantasy. During emotionally traumatic and transformative moments in her life, "special, terrible night[s]," the narrator sees a grotesque unicorn-type beast in the field outside of her home. It demands her attention and beckons her to follow. These moments quickly pass and are integrated seamlessly in the context of the events, so it shouldn't prevent those that typically avoid fantasy from reading it.

Growing up is about realising that the cracks in the pavement are nothing to worry about. It’s the cracks inside that count.

At only 144 pages this is a very quick read, but it packs a strong emotional punch. It is filled with beautifully written passages. By the time I finished this book, I wanted to get my hands on everything Sarah Pinborough has ever written! If you enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (atmosphere/reality + bit of fantasy) or A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (parent dying of cancer/reality + bit of fantasy), you will probably like this book. It also made me think back to the scenes concerning Levin's brother's fate in Anna Karenina.
This is just the end. It isn’t the everything of you. And it’s the everything we’ll remember when the memory of this fades. I remember me and Penny in the bath splashing bubbles, you smiling behind the camera. Or maybe I just remember the yellowy seventies photograph, but either way those things are the everything. All moments that have arrived here.

Thank you to Quercus (Jo Fletcher Books) & NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.  It was published in 2009 and 2013, but it is being reissued on August 2, 2016.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,688 reviews2,241 followers
May 27, 2016
“Time is surreal. I can hear that laugh as if it were yesterday and in the same instant I can see the years ahead in which I will never hear it again. I squeeze my eyes shut let the drifting take over.”

Death, its impact on the lives of the siblings, how it changes the way each person views the words and actions of their siblings. It impacts and changes relationships of the caregiver and the dying, as well as the relationships of the caregiver and the remaining family. Death’s imminence changes everything, what you do, think, feel, hear and don’t hear, where your focus is, until exhaustion claims your thoughts and they drift away.

Recollections of the narrator, family scenarios through the years, explanations through situations that show the chain of events leading to her brothers being viewed as less than reliable in the past, past resentments leading to sharply worded comments between siblings. All these things are bound to happen in that space between life and death while you’re playing the Watchman. Everyone comes into that situation with a different agenda.

If you’ve experienced the death of a parent or loved one you’ll recognize the internal conflicts, if you have your own siblings to throw into the mix, then you will undoubtedly be doing some comparing and maybe some reliving of the struggles between family members, and the feelings that result.

This is a relatively brief story, but it is powerful.

Publication Date: 3 August 2016

Many thanks to Quercus / Jo Fletcher Books, NetGalley and to author Sarah Pinborough for providing me with an advanced copy to read.
Profile Image for Betsy Robinson.
Author 9 books994 followers
August 22, 2016
. . . I stroke your hair and kiss your dry, rotten mouth. “I can see you in there, Dad,” I whisper. “Don’t worry. I can always see you.” (17)
Maybe this statement expresses the essence of the experience of being a solo witness to the slow, agonizing death of somebody you love. It’s something you know in your heart and cannot share with anybody but the person who is dying. Not siblings. Not doctors and other caretakers. When you have been the primary friend (and that can be in many different roles—spouse, child, parent, etc.), seeing this person to their end, the journey becomes your never-to-be-spoken, unshareable honor and pain.

The Language of Dying spoke it and ended with an ecstatic gasp. This book is the exquisite monologue of a daughter to her dying father, and in it she manages to tell the story of losing herself in the midst of her unraveling family. I played the role of the primary caretaker to my mother during her dying, and even though the details of my family are so different, I found myself identifying, feeling almost as if this were my story. I suspect anybody who has been by the side of a dying person, anyone who has unraveled and come back together will find resonance here; this is the magic of good fiction. Thanks to my Goodreader friends for telling me about this gorgeous little (88 pages) book.
Profile Image for Liz.
1,920 reviews2,360 followers
September 15, 2016

This is a very moving novella concerning a daughter caring for her dying father. The book is written almost as a letter, addressed to the father. I love the title. The language of dying speaks to the fear of people to hear or learn about dying. “They don't like the little bit of language they already know; they don't want to add to it”.

I read this while my 91 year old father was recovering from a broken hip. It's been a long, slow, painful recovery. Given the almost daily interaction, I've seen my father more in the past six weeks than in the prior 5 years combined. So the subject matter spoke to me. But I don't think it's appeal is limited to those going through a similar experience as a caregiver.

The book does a good job of the dynamics of the siblings as they return home to see their father one last time. The narrator is the middle child of five. “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle” as the narrator quotes the song. All are damaged, and the others struggle to accept the inevitable.

The book works less well when she talks about her dark drifts and the horse like creature that appears to her. I didn't felt it added anything to the plot.

My thanks to netgalley and Jo Fletcher books for an advance copy

Profile Image for Sandra.
193 reviews98 followers
June 2, 2016
"There is a language to dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy."

What a powerful and heartbreaking book this is!
Even as I'm writing this review, I feel this lump in my throat coming up again and I'm having trouble keeping it down.

This novella shows us a woman taking care of her father in the final stage of his battle against cancer. During this period of coping with his imminent death, her four other siblings come to pay their last respects and tensions arise.
"My anger fights with my grief and threatens to strangle me."

Sarah Pinborough's writing is beautiful, expressive and she makes you feel the pain, the grief and all the anguish of the characters. Their suffering is palpable.
"I rock forward, keening, trying to cry it all out. Trying to cry you out. Trying to cry away this waiting for you to rot into death. My throat tightens. The world glitters in the corners and my own breath threatens to choke me."

While short, this is not an easy read. There is a high probability of your own (undealt) sorrows peeking around the corner. Keep a box of tissues nearby.

Read this for our May Short Story Month Marathon, a personal challenge during which Alex and I will be going through our short story collection in this last week of May. I'm adding a little twist to it by reading books by authors I haven't read from before.
Profile Image for Kristina.
72 reviews20 followers
September 5, 2016

"There is a language to dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy. It is a secret hushed thing that lives in the whisper of the nurses’ skirts as they rustle up and down our stairs. They’ve taught me to face the language one syllable at a time, slowly creating an unwilling meaning."

So begins The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough, a novella narrated by the main character, a woman who is caring for her ailing father during his final days. The tone is melancholy, yet I'm so glad I read it. At times the writing is simply stunning and hits on the universal truths that anyone who has lost a loved one will recognize immediately. An example:

"Time is surreal. I can hear that laugh as if it were yesterday and in the same instant I can see the years ahead in which I will never hear it again."

So simple, yet so profound and inescapably true. Also included in the story are the narrator's siblings, who each return home when they learn of their father's impending death. It shows how differently each one reacts to the news and also the many difficulties they all have with each other.

The Language of Dying is a short book, yet there is so much packed within the pages; I imagine that much of it will remain with me for a very long time.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance copy of this in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,114 reviews2,181 followers
April 25, 2017
This novella is written as a letter of sorts to a dying father by his unnamed nearly 40 year old daughter. She's the sole caretaker of her dying father, who is in his last days. Beautifully written with raw emotions that felt real, so real that I suspect the author has intimate knowledge of what it's like.

It wasn't that long ago that I sat by my father's bedside as he lay dying. Death isn't always "with dignity", people don't always "go quietly in the night", and not every family bands together and offers love, assistance, and support to each other. People often are weak, damaged, and broken. Siblings can disappoint.

I've written and deleted the same paragraph 4 times, but let's just say with some of the emotions and family interactions, it was as if Pinsborough had been in the room with me.

Of course, this is fiction, and I couldn't personally relate to everything but there was so much that was real. The physical indignities, the watchful waiting, dreading it yet reaching a point where you wish for it. This type of book may not be for everyone, some people don't want to revisit the pain, but for this reader it was meaningful and cathartic.

However, it lost a star for that strange ending. The thing in the field? Maybe I'm dense, but I just didn't get it. And....no spoilers....but think it would have been a more powerful story if the narrator had not taken a certain action toward the end.

** I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for review
Profile Image for Sheila.
922 reviews82 followers
October 31, 2016
4 stars--I really liked it. Wow, what a strange, sad, and fantastic novella this is. It wasn't what I expected, and I really enjoyed it.

This book is about--as the title says--dying, but it's also about family and depression and loss. The writing and characterization are both excellent. However, what I really loved was the touch of magical realism (or was it?). For me, that put this book beyond just "good."

I'm not going to say much, to avoid spoilers, but this won't be my last Pinsborough book.

I received this review copy from the publisher on NetGalley. Thanks for the opportunity to read and review; I appreciate it!
Profile Image for Jamie.
225 reviews114 followers
November 4, 2016
Even though this was only 88 pages long, it had such an emotional impact on me. From page one, I knew this story would revolve around a man dying of cancer.

This story was all too real for me. It is about how a dysfunctional family tried to come together when someone they love was ill. Even as I write this, I still have tears in my eyes. Way too many memories surfaced while reading this. I remember watching, and being by my mother’s side while she had suffered from melanoma cancer. I understood, that when there wasn’t much more time, that “you’re gone where I can’t reach you and you can’t reach me” anymore, all that’s left is waiting.

This is such a beautiful yet haunting story, that I know will stick with me for a very long time.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest opinion. My thanks to Sarah Pinborough and Jo Fletcher Books for the opportunity.
Profile Image for Dean.
391 reviews114 followers
February 5, 2017
I've just finished it, a book like a fast train at coalition course to your guts!!!!!
I mean, in this book are so much inside, it's almost unbelievable and written really beautiful, dense, atmospheric, and full of magic ( like a gothic novel ).....
The story of a young woman damaged trough diverse cruel hammerings in her life!!!!
Betrayal from people which she never expected it, helpless in the face of a marriage turning out to be hell....
gradually the cracks in her soul shows up, as a result of the tragic and terrible blows and strokes of her fate!!!
A sad and tragic story too, displaying and demonstrating our vulnerability as human beings.
As her father is dying from cancer, she witnesses the deterioration and humiliation these sickness can arouse...
And then happens something unexpected at the family reunion which causes the dramatic climax of the story and brings the definite confirmation of her fate.
Sarah Pinborough has delivered a fine and beautifully written story told with honesty and containing much truth...
I will not say anything how the story ends, only that it will let you amazed and astonished!!
For sure this will not be the last book I'm to read from Sarah Pinborough....
The language of dying I'll reward with five stars.
Top book, and one of my literary highlights for this year!!

Profile Image for Renee Godding.
572 reviews545 followers
May 2, 2019
“There is a language to dying. It creeps like a shadow alongside the passing years and the taste of it hides in the corners of our mouths. It finds us whether we are sick or healthy. It is a secret hushed thing that lives in the whisper of the nurses’ skirts as they rustle up and down our stairs. They’ve taught me to face the language one syllable at a time, slowing creating an unwilling meaning."

The Language of Dying is one of those novels I feel a little bad about not liking more. It’s a novella that takes place over the span of a few hours, as a woman wakes by the bed of her dying father and muses over the time leading up to this moment.
It’s quite a step away from Sarah Pinborough’s normal work in the thriller/mystery genre and just feels somewhat more personal to the author herself. I couldn’t tell you if this is autobiographical, but when an author writes such a personal novella outside of their usual brand, that is automatically where my mind goes. This makes me feel even worse for not particularly liking this novella.
If you know me, you might know I have a special place in my heart for books that deal with grief, before, after, or surrounding the death of a loved one. Because of that, I read and have read a lot of those. Having so much material for comparison has made me (perhaps hyper-)critical of the entire genre, making it quite hard for a new book to blow me away. That was exactly the case here: The Language of Dying is a true and honest description of one woman’s experience, but it did nothing to differentiate itself from the other books on the topic.

What I look for in books like this are (grossly simplified) 2 things:
1. A feeling of recognition: thinking, “yes, that was what it felt like to me”, or “I can see how it would feel like that”. The ability of an author to put into words a deeply personal experience you had. Maybe it was an abstract, undefinable feeling, that you only recognized when you read it on the page. Maybe it was something you were able to describe, but didn’t know other people felt too.
The Language of Dying does deliver on this front.
2. This may sound a little vague, but: the feeling that you’ve gained something from revisiting that experience via the book you just read. That you’ve perhaps gained a new perspective, realized something new or even just felt a little more understood, or less alone than you did before.
This is what lacked in The Language of Dying for me. Everything I read in here, I’ve read before in one way or another, so nothing was quite unique or new enough to bring that for me.
The one aspect with which The Language of Dying tries to set itself apart from others is the use of a small element of magical realism. Potentially, this is something I could very much enjoy, but in this case, I didn’t feel it fit the story. Its appearance felt like an afterthought, not yet completely woven into the fabric of the story, and therefore fell a little flat for me.

All in all: an okay read for me. I commend Sarah Pinborough for stepping outside her comfort zone with this title, and I do feel this is something that could potentially be very meaningful to some people. It unfortunately just didn’t happen to be for me.
Profile Image for Linda Strong.
3,882 reviews1,627 followers
February 7, 2017
Watching someone die day after day, especially of someone you love, is emotionally heart-breaking. More so, if you've no one to share your memories, the stories, the day to day caring of a loved one without help.

This woman is watching her father die. She is the middle child ,,, she has 2 older siblings and 2 younger. They have all gathered to be with her and to pay last respects this week. They are not a close knit family. They are all playing the game of being family, but nothing really rings true.

This short story is written in her voice. She talks to her father in her head, remembering what it was like when he was young and strong.... how they all got along, or how they didn't. She sits in the dark sometimes looking at his cancer-ridden body, knowing that it is only days now.

Two of her siblings have had to leave .. promising they will be back...maybe. The remaining two she has chased away and now it's only her and her father.

As she drifts away in her mind, staring out the window ... she sees it. She hasn't seen it in 15 years ... and now she waits.

This was a hard story for me to read .. even harder to try to write a coherent review. Having a personal experience of losing a loved one to cancer, I found this is to an emotionally charged reading. So much I could relate to. I remembered the sorrow ... the times I felt guilty if I laughed.. watched as he left me alone.

It's extremely well-written, pulling from the reader a powerful reaction to her words. It's as though she was with you when you suffered your loss. She's been there.

Many thanks to the author / Quercus (US) / Jo Fletcher Books / Netgalley for the advance digital copy. Opinions expressed her are unbiased and entirely my own.
Profile Image for Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede.
1,913 reviews764 followers
December 17, 2016
The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough was a book that seemed to be fantastic and that a lot of my friends on Goodreads ( and other readers there) love. However, now and then am I the odd one out because this book didn't do a thing for me. I kept on expecting for the moment to show up when I would get enthralled and get sucked into the story, but it never happened.

Instead, it just dragged on, and this is not a thick book, only 144 pages long, but it felt like it took forever to get to the end. I just couldn't connect with the character nor the story. The fantasy aspect of the story was also a big failure. Instead of being mysterious and intriguing it was just odd and felt out of place. I wonder if the book and worked better if one had gotten to know the characters better if the story had been more developed. Now instead it feels like you get a quick introduction to each of the siblings, but you never really get to know them or care for them or their father.

Now, this is just my humble opinion, it's a well-loved book and perhaps it will work better for you.

I want to thank the publisher for providing me with a free copy through NetGalley for an honest review!
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
1,989 reviews2,584 followers
August 1, 2016
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/08/01/...

Sarah Pinborough is the author of a couple of my favorite historical horror novels, Mayhem and Murder in the Dr. Thomas Bond duology about the Jack the Ripper, so when I was offered a chance to review The Language of Dying, I didn’t hesitate. This novella couldn’t have been more different than her other work though, and yet I loved it no less. A beautiful soul-rending song straight from the heart, this tiny little book packs an emotional punch by shifting gears instead to look at the turbulent nature of grief and the profound effects it has on one troubled family.

The story starts with a woman, our unnamed narrator, sitting by her dying father’s bedside waiting for the other members of her family to arrive in order to say goodbye. First to arrive is her older sister Penny, who has always lived a charmed life, but for all her successes still hides behind a façade of materialism that she fears can shatter at any moment. Next come Simon and Davey, the twins, who arrive within half an hour of each other even though they live hundreds of miles apart. The narrator notes this uncanny connection between her younger brothers with a heavy heart, thinking where one twin goes the other will follow, even when their lives are spiraling out of control. The last to show up at the house is Paul, the eldest brother, coming off from another failed business venture or financial debacle. With that, the whole family is under one roof again. The children’s mother, who abandoned them so many years ago, is already gone in every sense of the word.

But deep in her heart, our narrator is secretly hoping for one final visitor. Only twice in her life has she seen him; the first time when she was ten, outside her window the night her mother left them all behind, and the second when she was twenty-five, after another painful loss in her life. She can tell no one what she saw, because she’s not even sure what she saw was real. But still, she believes, and now, she waits.

This is a hard book to categorize. Despite its label as a fantasy novella, the ties that bind the story to the genre are light and ambiguous. However, it’s the themes that really come through: pain, grief, death, loss. Family, support, togetherness, love. Death will come for us all in time, and when it happens the living are left to struggle with the loss. But sometimes the grieving process actually starts well before the person dies, as this story shows. For months, the narrator had known that the cancer would kill her father, but it is in the final days, watching him waste away while feeling helpless to stop his pain, that’s when she starts to fall apart. When the rest of the siblings arrive though, their presence and their shared memories offer some comfort. Her brothers and her sister might not be perfect—some of them surprise her, while others disappoint her—but regardless, in them she finds a new source of strength.

I don’t know if I could have read this book if someone close to me was dying, or if I’d just experienced a recent loss of a loved one. I’m positive it would have broken me. I’ve never seen a more transparent, open and honest portrayal about the agony of confronting the inevitable, of letting go of a dearly beloved, and something tells me this is a personal tale for the author. The style in which it was written, narrated by the protagonist in present tense and in the first person but addressing her dying father as “you”, made this book even more moving and intimate. Her memories of her own past are presented as if she is sharing those painful moments directly with him, with us.

Ultimately, it’s this closeness that defines the sweet poignancy of this beautifully crafted novella. The Language of Dying is an astonishingly good read, simple in its approach, but thoughtful and heartbreaking in its execution. It’s not an easy book to read, but you will be glad you did.
Profile Image for Karen.
739 reviews75 followers
March 21, 2017

To anybody that has sat at a loved one's bedside and watch them slip from cognition to comatose, because they are dying of cancer this book viscerally twists you inside and out. The narrator remains nameless but is at the family home (she already bought it from her father and distributed the money to her siblings) with her dying father. This authenticates the grief, guilt, just wanting one more moment with your loved one and the myriad scale of emotions to watch somebody you love waste away.

In this particular story all five siblings gather together because the end is very near for their father. The narrator, a 39 year old woman who is divorced has brought her father home to die with her. She is the middle child and is isolated and carries demons literally of her own which none of the other siblings know about. I could feel her anger at two of her siblings so palpably that it snapped, crackled and popped off the pages. She is incensed with anger with Simon, because he feels the need to get inebriated to spend his time with his dying father. She is stark raving mad at Paul, who in his way makes excuses why he has to leave. For whatever their shortcomings, she feels like she wants them all to just go home, leave. I don't know if this is in the horror genre as well as it is a story to deeply connect with and reach some kind of catharsis.

For me I sincerely connected with the death vigil, but thought it to be a bit satanic and that is why I am not sure if this belongs in the horror genre. The ending surely places it squarely there or the alternative is that the narrator goes crazy and needs some medication and mental health care.
It is a slim volume deserving of five stars. The writing is Brilliant. Not your everyday light reading.
I would recommend this to anyone who has watched a loved one slip away.

Thank You to Net Galley, Sarah Pinborough and Quercus for my digital copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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