In search of consolation

2008-11-26 00:00

Can there be any consolation when you lose a child? How do you assimilate something of that magnitude? What are the processes you go through and how are you and your close relationships afterwards affected?

Having asked these serious questions, I should hasten to add that Consolation is not a heavy, depressing book. Rather, it is well written, with a pleasing balance of tenderness, depth and intelligence. It offers quite sumptuous food for thought.

Set in the early 1900s, Consolation describes a man’s gruelling journey towards healing after the death of his only child, a young girl.

Corley Roper is the acclaimed author of a series of successful children’s books. A gentle soul, Roper cannot come to terms with the tragedy and he flees from his home, a crumbling marriage and the circumstances of the grief he feels so profoundly.

Shunned by his wife as she grapples with issues surrounding her own sense of loss and turns to the comfort of a nefarious medium, Roper is enthralled by the woman he meets in a rainy churchyard far from home one evening. Mary Wilson is in mourning for her stillborn baby, and to help her out of a predicament, he offers to bury a lock of her baby’s hair within the consecrated ground of the churchyard.

And so begins the mystery of the voice in his head and the psychological possession that grips and torments him.

With his muse — his daughter — gone, Roper finds he can no longer write. In need of a distraction, he throws himself into assisting Mary, in a self-appointed quest to discover her true identity and reunite her with her mother, who abandoned her at birth.

He clings to this relentlessly as a distraction from his own grief and as a panacea to his deep sense of loss.

James Wilson’s style of writing is just up my street, with vivid descriptions of scenery — the sublime romance of the English countryside — but not overdone. He evokes the right amount of empathy for Roper, but cleverly understates the chasm of grief he feels, rather alluding to it in a subtle way that somehow magnifies it more than if it were thrust in the reader’s face.

He provides the skeleton for his psychological frame of mind, and the reader fills in the blanks — most satisfying. A brilliant read.

Stephanie Saville

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