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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Book Review: Till Human Voices Wake Us by Patti Davis

Till Human Voices Wake Us is essentially an intimate novel about grief and finding ways to endure it. Isabelle Berendon loses her son in the opening pages when he drowns in their swimming pool. The narrative flashes forward to reveal that within a few months she's fallen in love with, and moved in with, her sister-in-law, Iris. The rest of the book deals with the events following Nathan's death and the future after she has moved in with Iris and taken her step-daughter, Margaret, with her, including the emergence of another grief lying in wait around the corner.

I can't say I enjoyed this book, but that wasn't really the point. This is a brutally honest novel that examines parental grief in a minute way. It's also about finding the love to help you through such a situation, although the gender of the person Isabelle finds solace in is incidental. As such, it can seem to take a back seat. That was one of the few things that disappointed me about the novel - I didn't think it explained the relationship alteration between Isabelle and Iris in as much detail as it possibly have.

That's not to say that it wasn't an absorbing read. It's written in a very lucid style, plunging into the past whenever necessary. It demonstrates how grief impedes on even the easiest activities and how your present is directly influenced by your past. Apart from her relationships with her husband, dead son and stepdaughter, we also learn about her criminal father and the effect that had on her mother. The flashbacks are always impeccably handled, though some of them were too curtailed for my liking.

Till Human Voices Wake Us is not a fast-moving book. The plot is very simple and the narrative voice is strong throughout. There is, however, a mystery that pulls at you from the opening pages and the resolution genuinely surprised me. The other characters perhaps aren't as strong as Isabelle but this is her story and it doesn't pretend to be anything else.

Overall, an exceptional examination of grief and love. Some slight niggles but, ultimately, a very heartfelt novel.

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