Death… and Life

It doesn’t seem like it should be so hard to write a brief review of every book I read or movie I watch, but somehow it has been. My latest thought is to write a post whenever I have read/watched three items that are related in some kind of way. Today’s post is on death… and life.

Last week I read The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, by Alan Bradley, the second in the continuing series of Flavia de Luce mysteries (the first being The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie). Flavia is an 11-year-old amateur chemist/sleuth, with a predilection for poison. Death and murder figure prominently in this tale, at times a bit ghoulishly, but this is hardly intended to be a philosophical treatise on death. Rather, it is a clever whodunit, set in a small English village in 1950, and the strength of the story for me was in the characters, not the mystery. I’m looking forward to the next book in this series, scheduled to be released in February 2011.

After waiting about two months for it, I finally received my hold copy of Departures from our local library. I was a bit hesitant to watch it, not sure quite what to expect. I knew only that it was a Japanese movie about death. I always try to avoid reading Amazon reviews before I watch a movie, since so many reviewers feel compelled to do a book report type review, giving away the entire plot, and so I don’t want to give spoilers for the movie. I’ll only say that the main character is an “encoffiner”, one who prepares bodies for burial, and this movie was a beautiful and moving affirmation of life.

Completing the trio is the novel Hello Goodbye, by Emily Chenoweth, a Portland author who will be appearing at Wordstock this fall. In fact, it was from the Wordstock Facebook page that I learned about this novel. I have to admit that if I was hesitant about watching Departures, I was even more so about reading this novel, as it is about a teenage girl losing her mother to a brain tumor. It hit a bit too close to home, having lost both my parents to cancer two years again, and I wondered why I would want to re-live the pain of my loss.

In the end, it was an Oregonian article that made me decide I had to read this novel, when I discovered that the story was based on Chenoweth’s own life, and the novel had almost been marketed as memoir instead of fiction. I am a big proponent of “honoring by listening” and although the story was obviously sad, it was also life-affirming. I found it very powerful and moving, and extremely well written. Interestingly, the handful of reviews on Amazon are split. Those who lived through a cancer experience found it very realistic and moving, the rest thought it was unrealistic or boring. One reviewer even complained that nothing ever happened. Nothing happened? Hmm. Dealing with the impending loss of a loved one sure seems like something to me.

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