Rebecca's Reviews > The Last Act of Love

The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
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Jul 06, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: bereavement-memoirs, newbury-library

(3.5) “‘I had a brother. He died,’ I’d say. It pleased me that it was a version of the six-word short story made famous by Ernest Hemingway.” That’s the shorthand, but this wrenching memoir fills in the background. In the summer of 1990 Rentzenbrink’s younger brother Matty, 16 and about to receive his excellent GCSE test results, was hit by a car and sustained a head injury that left him in a persistent vegetative state. It took years to realize that, desperate as she and her parents were to keep Matty alive, it would have been much better if he’d died that night. Instead it took eight years and a court order for them to allow him to die.

What I appreciated most about this book was not necessarily the details about Matty’s life and death, but the way Rentzenbrink tracks her own shifting emotions in the years when she was a troubled university student and later a bereaved young wife and then divorcee, still suffering the effects of grief so many years after Matty’s accident. “I could feel myself becoming a less pleasant person and was often angry and resentful. … I need to be able to vacuum-pack away my heart, make it tiny and protected and put it in a cupboard or under the bed so I can get it out again and open it when time has passed and it’s safe to feel.”

Unfortunately this suffers a bit in comparison to Beyond the High Blue Air by Lu Spinney, a memoir of her son’s minimally conscious state after a snowboarding accident. Spinney’s account is more consciously literary in contrast to Rentzenbrink’s plain speaking and everyday metaphors, but both stories are well told and touching. The later chapters of this book are the strongest, especially the final one, as she charts the things that helped bring her back to life – marriage and motherhood, reading and jobs working with books and literacy, and some simple compassion for herself.

I look forward to seeing Cathy Rentzenbrink speak at an event in London next week. She’ll be in conversation with Michel Faber, author of Undying, about grief in literature.
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Reading Progress

July 6, 2016 – Shelved
July 6, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
September 3, 2016 – Started Reading
September 3, 2016 – Shelved as: bereavement-memoirs
September 3, 2016 – Shelved as: newbury-library
September 9, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Great review Rebecca! Its really exciting you will be able to meet/hear the author in London.. I love this book cover too, will add to my TBR list, thank you :)


message 2: by Margitte (new)

Margitte Great review, Rebecca. It sounds like a powerful book about a controversial subject, right? enjoy meeting the author! That's a bonus!


Rebecca Definitely!


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