Monthly Archives: July 2021

A Life Revived

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“I am eighty-five years old. I am old and tired and alone. I have nothing I want to do and no one I want to see. I am not depressed, merely done with life. I don’t want to end up dribbling in an old-people’s home, wearing adult nappies in front of a shouting television. I want to leave this world with dignity and respect. Now, can you help me out?”

Life is precious and as long as we have a reason to continue, we should follow that path.

Eudora Honeycutt does not seem to have much reason to go on. She is quite the curmudgeon. Maybe not the broomstick-wielding (or shotgun-toting) crank, screaming “get off my lawn, you damn kids!” Eudora is far too proper for such behavior. But the inner resentment is there. She is uninterested in having the sort of death her mother endured when, a husk of her former self, she died, a frequent flyer (often. needlessly) in the ER, she was kept going by a medical system that cared less about the quality of one’s life than extending it at all costs. Sick of the world, fed up with its rampant and growing narcissism, and seeing no meaningful future ahead, she gets in touch with a clinic in Switzerland that might be able to help her end her life with the dignity she wants.

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Annie Lyons – image from her site – shot by Harriet Buckingham

everyone is selfish and caught up with themselves these days. They have no time to notice her or others like her. They consume news or food as if they are trying to eat the whole world; they watch and judge and spit out their opinions as if they’re the only ones worth listening to. Eudora is invisible to these people, but she has stopped noticing them, too. They’re welcome to their “post-Brexit, Donald Trump, condemn everyone, be kind to no one” world. There is no helping them now. Soon enough she won’t be around to witness their continuous decline into moral torpor. Good riddance and good night.

But that is not all there is to Eudora. She has seen little kindness in the world, has endured more than her share of its opposite, and yet there is, inexplicably, still a lode of the stuff buried inside her. And she has stumbled across a crew of miners, happy to bring it to the light of day.

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Dame Maggie Smith – image from Jewish News

There are new occupants in the house next door, primarily a ten-year-old girl. Rose is the bubbles in a bottle of champagne, the chirping birds that welcome dawn, sunshine after days of rain, an iced drink on a hot day, a huge jolt of distilled wonderfulness, rain after a drought, and a rainbow after a shower. The rainbow part of that is not much of an exaggeration, as Rose always seems to be dressed in a garish array of colors that may or may not go with any of the other eye-popping hues she is wearing. One typical ensemble is made up of buttercup yellow, ecclesiastical purple, and neon orange. Rose is exuberantly neighborly, and decides that Eudora is going to be her new best friend.

Rose may have the wearying positivity of a jack-in-the-box, but she is kindness personified.

The next new addition to Eudora’s life is Stanley, a widower, a gentleman of a certain age. It was Stanley who had come to her aid when he’d seen her fall recently. Made sure she was seen to. She remembers him not at all, finds him irritating even. But Stanley persists with Eudora, offering her interest, engagement, and kindness, with a persistence not unlike Rose’s, but without the flamboyance.

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Haribo Cherries – image from Amazon – Eudora buys some for Rose

Like a wrestling tag-team, Rose and Stanley both engage Eudora individually (and sometimes together), seeing something in her that she does not see in herself. Rose’s exuberance is as delightful as it is persistent and overwhelming. It seems that when it comes to Rose, resistance really is futile. As Eudora, bit by bit, is drawn back into the world, she encounters even more people who offer kindness and understanding. She meets Hannah, a death doula, who gives a talk at a local community center, and has made a career of helping people near the end of their lives. But not all the kindness is delivered to Eudora by local folks reaching out to her. In her dealings with the Swiss clinic that provides help for people choosing a decent death, she engages with Petra, her contact there, who is also welcoming and supportive to Eudora.

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Dame Judy Dench – image from The Hamilton Spectator

Throughout the novel we get looks back at Eudora’s life, (18 by my count) beginning in 1940, when she was five years old. Her beloved father took her out for a birthday treat, a memory that has lasted a lifetime. He is heading off to war, and mom is pregnant. What happens with her father impacts the rest of Eudora’s life and the lives of those around her. One inspiration for the character of Eudora was:

…my mum, who also lived through the second world war and had that sort of resilience and stoicism, but also that stubbornness and that refusal to ask for help, and I’m just going to get on with it, and I’m ok, and I don’t want to talk about it. My mum was a real sweetie. She was not as difficult as Eudora. But it’s part of that generation I think. To write her story, but then to juxtapose it with Rose was just…I love to read books about inter-generation friendships…It was my way of looking at it in an uplifting way. – from the Better at Home interview

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Dame Helen Mirren – image from The Mayor’s Fund for London

One of the inspirations for the book was Lyons reaching middle-age (no numbers have been offered), and realizing that half her life was over. It sparked a concern about (an interest in) death and how people view it.

[The book] explores our denial and inability to face death as a reality. However, through Eudora’s honesty and Rose’s curiosity, it also shows different ways to view death – whether it’s through Eudora’s discussions with Petra at the clinic in Switzerland or Hannah, the death doula’s talk on what it is to have a good death or Rose’s enthusiasm for the Mexican Day of the Dead. – from the Book Q&As interview

In alternating past and present, Lyons does an excellent job of linking todays realities to Eudora’s history. We get to see how life’s many disappointments shaped Eudora into the grouch she has become, with each section about her past explaining one of Eudora’s present-day reactions. We see, also, how Rose, Stanley, and others offer Eudora something far greater than resignation.

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Michael Gambon – image from The Irish Examiner

In the Book Club Girl interview Lyons offered a few dame names for dream actresses to play Eudora. I have peppered the review with images of those. She offered a suggestion or two for Stanley. So, ditto.

This is a beautifully written, heart-warming novel, not just about death, our experiences with it, and thoughts on it, but about the value of kindness, of our connection to others, and what is important in life. Lyons has written characters we not only care about, but love. Trust me. Tears will be shed, more than a few.

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Jim Broadbent – image from The Indian Express

By the time my father was my age he’d been dead for over a year. Not that I think about that much, not me, no. So, maybe it is easy to imagine that a book about a woman contemplating her personal end times might be of some interest. But, if I go with my maternal DNA instead of my paternal for projecting my likely mortality, it looks like I may have a few good years left. I hope I can fill them reading books as wonderful, as entertaining, hopeful, and uplifting as The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeycutt. It is a brilliant book and an absolute must-read.

For beauty lives with kindness.

Review posted – July 16, 2021

Publication dates (USA)
———-September 8, 2020 – (USA)
———-October 19, 2021 – Paperback – Morrow

It was published in the UK on September 8, 2020 under the title Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You

This review is cross-posted on Goodreads

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, FB, Instagram, and Twitter pages

Interviews
—–Library Love Fest – An Interview with Annie Lyons, author of THE BRILLIANT LIFE OF EUDORA HONEYSETT – with Virginia Stanley – audio 28:24 – begin at about 1:00
—–Blblio Happy Hour – Talking with Annie Lyons + a dive into the week’s new releases – by Victoria Wood – audio – 29 minutes – begin at the 6 minute mark
—–Better At Home – Annie Lyons
—–Book Club Girl – Discussion with Annie Lyons – Includes her US editor Emily Krump – video – 47:11
—–Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb Q&A with Annie Lyons
—–Library Love Fest – An Interview with Annie Lyons, author of THE BRILLIANT LIFE OF EUDORA HONEYSETT – audio – 28:24 – by Virginia Stanley

Songs/Music
—–Oscar Seagle – Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag (And Smile, Smile, Smile) – chapter 1
—–Dame Vera Lynn – We’ll Meet Again – chapter 3
—–This is Me – the greatest song from The Greatest Showman, Rose’s favorite film – It really should have won the Oscar for best song.

Items of Interest from the author
—–Writing and Wellness – Featured Writer on Wellness: Annie Lyons
—–Female First – Seven things I learned in lockdown by Annie Lyons

Items of Interest
—–Wiki for It’s a Wonderful Life – mentioned in chapter 4 (and my personal all time favorite film)
—–Wiki on the British TV Quiz show Pointless – referenced in chapter 7
—–Wiki on the film Coco – mentioned in chapter 7
—–BBC – Babycham – a popular drink of the time – Eudora orders one at a dance with her bff Silvie
—–A brochure from lifecircle – a Swiss organization that helps people with end-of-life decision-making. The author references this org as a source for her research on Eudora’s planning.
—–PopMaster – referenced in chapter 11

Recipe
—–Chapter 2 – Cornish fairings

Reminds me of
—–Benediction by Kent Haruf – Dad Lewis is nearing the end of his life when he encounters eight-year-old Alice
—–Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver – a couple deciding whether to end it all when they hit 80 – review pending
—–News of the World by Paulette Giles – a 70-something escorts a difficult 10-year-old back to her family
—–Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton – A 78-year-old astrophysicist may be the last man on Earth until he meets a young girl, alone in the Arctic
—–Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney – An older woman takes a walk on New Year’s Eve, the stops along her way recalling her life

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Re-wilding the Highlands

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I had always known there was something different about me, but that was the day I first recognized it to be dangerous. It was also the day, as I stumbled out of the shed into a long violet dusk, that I looked to the trees’ edge and saw my first wolf, and it saw me.

They’re more dangerous than we are.”
“Are they?” I ask. “They are wilder, certainly.”
“Isn’t it the same?”
“I don’t think so. I think it’s civilization makes us violent. We infect each other.”

Inti Flynn had always had a feel for nature. Her father had been a woodsman, first working for a lumber company, then, later, living a mostly solo subsistence life, in Canada, trying his best not to contribute to the global demise. He taught Inti and her twin, Aggie, about how to live in and with the wild. Their mother, a detective in Australia, was more concerned with teaching them how to contend with the wild in civilization. There is a lot in here about parents, of both the human and lupine persuasion, teaching children or pups how to cope in the world, how to defend against predators. The human sorts offer different approaches, some counseling firm defenses, others advising understanding, and some resorting to extreme kinetic measures. There are plenty of parents teaching questionable lessons.

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Charlotte McConoughy – image from If.com.au

Dad used to tell me that my greatest gift was that I could get inside the skin of another human. That I could feel what nobody else could, the life of another, really feel it and roll around in it. That the body knows a great deal and I have the miraculous ability to know more than one body. The astonishing cleverness of nature. He also taught us that compassion was the most important thing we could learn. If someone hurt us, we needed only empathy, and forgiveness would be easy.

Inti’s gift is not metaphorical. Her ability to experience what others feel, gives her a unique advantage in understanding both wildlife and people. It also makes her very vulnerable.

I am unlike most people. I move through life in a different way, with an entirely unique understanding of touch. Before I knew its name I knew this. To make sense of it, it is called a neurological condition. Mirror-touch synesthesia. My brain re-creates the sensory experiences of living creatures, of all people and even sometimes animals; if I see it I feel it, and for just a moment I am them, we are one and their pain or pleasure is my own. It can seem like magic and for a long time I thought it was, but really it’s not so far removed from how other brains behave: the physiological response to witnessing someone’s pain is a cringe, a recoil, a wince. We are hardwired for empathy. Once upon a time I took delight in feeling what others felt. Now the constant stream of sensory information exhausts me. Now I’d give anything to be cut free.

McConaghy’s prior novel, Migrations, looked at the demise of wildlife (birds in particular, and even more particularly terns) in a slightly future world. In this one, she continues her interest in the impact of people on the natural environment. Officially, the last wolf in Scotland was killed in 1680. There are reports of wolves being seen as late as 1888, but Scotland has been essentially wolf-free for well over three centuries. Sadly for Scottish woodlands, it has not been farmer, sheep, or climate-change-free. Part of the problem is that the local deer population tends to linger in place long enough to lay waste to new shoots. A great way to keep them moving is to reintroduce wolves. Good for the goal of restoring natural forest, re-wilding at least part of Scotland is good for the health of the deer population as well. Thus, Inti’s presence. She is leading a team charged with re-introducing a small population of wolves to a remote part of Scotland, near the Cairngorms, a mountainous area in the highlands.

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The Cairngorms – Image from The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

As one might imagine, there is considerable resistance among farmers concerned about the potential loss of livestock. The minimal-to-non-existent actual danger to humans is played up by those opposed to the reintroduction. Battle lines are drawn. The program has official sanction, but the locals have guns, and itchy fingers. And then someone goes missing. Inti’s primary concern is with the danger to the program, as she expects her wolves to be blamed.

The mystery for us is why, and how this person vanished. After a meet-cute early in the book, Inti and the local sheriff, Duncan MacTavish, team up, in a way, to try figuring out what happened. There are other mysteries as well, albeit of a different sort. What happened to Inti’s sister that had left her so damaged? Is Duncan trustworthy? The book alternates between the present and looking back at two periods in Inti’s and Aggie’s lives, with their father in British Columbia, where they learned how to live off the land, and as adults, when Inti was working on a wolf project in Alaska.

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Red deer are Scotland’s largest surviving, native, wild land mammal. It’s estimated that there are 400,000 of them in the Scottish Highlands – image and text from Good Nature Travel

Inti struggles with her desire to protect her wolves, and her need to engage with the locals as something other than as a know-it-all outsider. The complexity of the town’s social relations is quite fascinating. Duncan is our eyes on this, and a big help to Inti, knowing so well the people in the community in which he had grown up, understanding motivations, relationships, and local history much better than any outsider could.

Abuse is a central issue, in both the Old and the New World, whether at the hands of the distraught, the damaged, or the downright evil. Multiple characters in Scotland come from homes in which there was violence, whether against spouses, children, or both. It is clear that one of the locals has beaten his wife. Other instances of family violence are important to the story. The abuse that does take place is mostly done off-screen, reported, but not seen first-hand. Inti’s attempt at restoring the Scottish landscape, of giving new opportunities to a much-reviled species mirrors her attempt to heal, to restore the vitality of her own family.

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A wealthy landowner in Scotland is hoping to bring wolves from Sweden to the Scottish Highlands to thin the herd of red deer. – image and text from Good Nature Travel

One can probably make too much of it (I am sure I did), but I found it fun to look at the wolves for indications of comparison to the human characters. Was Inti like Six (the wolves are given numbers not names, for the most part). Who might be lone wolves? Who is fiercest in protecting their pack/family? Who are the alphas?

There is much resonance with Migrations. Both leads are working far from home. Both are trying to do something to help in a world that seems set against accepting any. Although she has her sister with her in Wolves, Inti is primarily a solo actor. She finds a family of a sort with charming, and not-so-charming locals, in the way that Franny Stone in Migrations teamed up with the fishing boat crew. Like Franny, Inti bears the burden of deep, traumatic family secrets. Like Franny, she is trying to find her true home, whether that be in Scotland, Canada, Australia, or maybe wherever the wolves are. Inti has a near-magical power of sensitivity. Franny had special abilities in the water. Like Franny, Inti teams up with a guy in a position of some power. In Migrations it was Ennis Malone, captain of a fishing boat. Here it is Duncan McTavish, the local sheriff. In both novels McConaghy shows the concerns of those imperiled by the front lines of attempts to correct a bad ecological situation. Of the two, this novel struck me as a bit more optimistic about the possibilities of making meaningful change.

In the real world, wolves have not been officially introduced back into Scotland, but there is one wealthy individual who is looking at doing so in a limited way. Who knows? Maybe the re-wilding of Scotland is not entirely a pipe dream.

Once There Were Wolves offers a close look at the issues involved in programs of this sort. The locals are accorded plenty of respect for and insight into their legitimate concerns, as we get to see past the rejectionist veneer. Very hard choices must be made, and the decision-making is very adult. Inti is a tough young woman with a challenging responsibility. It is easy to care about what happens to her. McConaghy keeps the action flowing, so there is no danger of losing interest. The main mystery is very intriguing and the final explanation is twisty and wonderful, with Inti finding her inner Miss Marple to sleuth her way to the truth. Once you sink your canines into this one, you will not want to let go. There are hankie moments as well. Tears will be shed. Set in a wintry place, it seems an ideal book to cool off with in the hot summer months. (Of course, if you read this in cooler months, it is distinctly possible that you will be wearing some wool, and thus will be reading a book about wolves while in sheep’s clothing. Just sayin’.) It seems appropriate to keep a modest supply of whiskey near to hand, just for ambience, of course. Or for those of the teetotaler persuasion, maybe some Irn-Bru. As for the best place in which to read this book, and read it you should, that should be obvious, in a den.

There is violence in me, in my hands, which vibrate with the need to exert some kind of control, some defiance, and if it is revenge for the things that have been taken from me then fine, I will have that too. I am done with falling prey. I will be predator, at last. I will forget the walls and the self-protection and I will become the thing I hunt and feel it all.

Review posted – July 9, 2021

Publication date – August 3, 2021

I received an E-ARE of OTWW in return for a fair review. Thanks to Amelia at Flatiron, to NetGalley for hosting the book and to MC for facilitating.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Instagram, Twitter and FB pages

Interviews
Interviews with CM re this book have been as tough to find as Scottish wolves, but I did unearth an oldie, from 2014. I am sure after the book is released there will be more interviews available. There are several interview links in my review of Migrations
—–AusRom Today – AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Charlotte McConaghy – from 2014 – this relates to her very early, romantic fantasy writing

My review of McConaghy’s previous book
—–2020 – Migrations

Items of Interest
—–Sea Wolves – Panthalassa.Org – mentioned in Chapter 8
—–Good Nature Travel – Bringing Wolves Back to Scotland by Candace Gaukel Andrews
—–The Guardian – Stories to save the world: the new wave of climate fiction by Claire Armitstead
—–Wiki on mirror touch synesthesia – yes, this is a real thing
—–Travel Medium – Why Are There No Trees in Scotland? by Paul McDougal – this is a wonderful overview of how Scotland lost so much of its woodlands over the last 6,000 years
—–Public Domain Review – Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours – Inti’s father kept a copy for use in his work – Chapter 3
—–The Guardian – Rewilding: should we bring the lynx back to Britain? by Phoebe Weston – 8/16/21 – One proposed re-wilding site is the same one used in this book

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