Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for This Shining Life by Harriet Kline. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Transworld for my review copy. Given the beautiful cover, it was quite hard to opt for a digital rather than a physical copy. However I’m always conscious that the latter are in short supply and not everyone is able to read digitally.
About the Book
For Rich, life is golden. He fizzes with happiness and love. But Rich has an incurable brain tumour.
When Rich dies, he leaves behind a family without a father, a husband, a son and a best friend. His wife, Ruth, can’t imagine living without him and finds herself faced with a grief she’s not sure she can find her way through.
At the same time, their young son Ollie becomes intent on working out the meaning of life. Because everything happens for a reason. Doesn’t it?
But when they discover a mismatched collection of presents left by Rich for his loved ones, it provides a puzzle for them to solve, one that will help Ruth navigate her sorrow and help Ollie come to terms with what’s happened. Together, they will learn to lay the ghosts of the past to rest, and treasure the true gift that Rich has left them: the ability to embrace life and love every moment.
Format: eARC (320 pages) Publisher: Transworld
Publication date: 1st July 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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This Shining Life is an intimate exploration of the impact of Rich’s diagnosis and subsequent death on the members of his extended family. All of them struggle to cope in different ways, partly because some of them face other challenges on top of their grief at his loss, such as difficult childhood memories or caring responsibilities. The book switches between before and after Rich’s death and unfolds from the points of view of a number of family members, including Rich himself.
The most powerful of these for me were the sections told – in the first person- by Rich’s young son, Ollie. Ollie’s neuro diversity gives him an unique perspective as he struggles to interpret the words and actions of others, in everyday life let alone at a time of such heightened emotions. As he says, “I hate trying to work out special meanings. You can never be sure whether you’ve got them right of wrong”. Indeed, a particularly interesting aspect of the book is the way it explores how we interpret the meaning of words and learn to discern whether their use is literal, metaphorical or merely a ‘turn of phrase’ such as Rich’s personal favourite, ‘Life’s too short’.
Ollie, in particular, exemplifies this struggle to understand the meaning of words in his touchingly literal interpretation of his father’s remark that life is a puzzle. It’s a puzzle Ollie is determined to solve, applying himself to the task with the same determination he did to memorising the names of the members of football teams or to solving sudoku puzzles.
Rich’s desire to leave gifts behind that will communicate to the recipients what they meant to him involves much careful thought on his part. And perhaps it is that degree of thought that, in the end, means just as much to the recipients as the gifts themselves. In fact, the whole gifting process turns out to be an apt metaphor for the emotional confusion that often follows a bereavement.
This Shining Life tackles some big subjects including terminal illness, caring for people with dementia, bereavement and mental illness. However, the author always manages to stay the right side of the maudlin or sentimental. And a cover quote by an author of the pedigree of Rachel Joyce describing the book as ‘exquisitely beautiful and compelling’ is not one that can be easily ignored is it?
In three words: Tender, emotional, insightful
Try something similar: One Last Time by Helga Flatland
About the Author
Harriet Kline works part time registering births, deaths and marriages and writes for the rest of the week. Her story Ghost won the Hissac Short Story Competition and Chest of Drawers won The London Magazine Short Story Competition. Other short stories have been published online with Litro, For Books’ Sake, and ShortStorySunday, and on BBC Radio 4.