'It is 1998. In the safe haven of her North London flat - in a room her husband has ironically dubbed the Delivery Room - Serbian therapist Mira Braverman listens to the stories of her troubled patients. As the novel unfolds, Mira discovers she is not as distant from her pain as she might once have been'
This was the gist of the story which attracted me to pick up this work by Sylvia Brownrigg. The book is intense. It is a story that weaves through characters and their personalities :-
Mira - The Serbian therapist settled in London and connected to her homeland through her sister Svetlana and her niece.
Peter - Mira's husband, a lovable professor who is the sterling support in Mira's life. His battles with his illness and his feelings for his son Graham form another league of struggles.
Graham - His mixed feelings for Peter and his step-mother Mira, his quandaries about having children and his ups and downs with his wife.
Clare - Graham's wife who is a real sweet character but comes with her own baggage of emotions.
There are additional characters of the patients who weave some more detail. One unique thing about the book, is the way the author starts a new scenario, which puzzles the reader about whom it is leading to. So intricately knit are the lives and so synonymous are the emotions of the characters. There are a few passages of the book which are beautiful.
A woman came in with a pram, inevitably, from which issued unnerving complaints like a cat's. The woman had a distracted, harassed look, and her clothes were what Eleanor called 'maternal resignation wear', the I-can't-be-bothered slouch of sweat shirt over jeans, and comfortable shoes. Face without make-up, or the softening touch of sleep.None the less,her eyes were proud. She had about herself that unassailable bearing that new mothers had. What I am doing here is the most important thing that there is. I have created new life.
One only ever heard stories of the heroes who fought their cancers, whose spirits remained indomitable, who retained their senses of humour, who became positive, ennobling forces in the lives of friends and relations.Less was written about the legions of inferior beings who must exist too, people who became impatient and unpleasant, or hollered with fear, or those like himself (Peter did not believe he was the only one) who simply became resigned, passive, gloomy, discouraged.
There was no hurry or need to say anything. This had been new for Kate, one of Cassandra's gifts, perhaps. Before, Kate would always have felt the need to fill an empty space as if it were an awkwardness or a mistake: she had not wanted it to seem as though she had nothing to say, or was bored or distracted in someone's company.Silences seemed ominous and insulting, a result of social misfire. Now they seemed merely appropriate, and somehow kind.How much kinder, finally, than talk that said nothing.
So that was what finally broke you: the pain.Not, in themselves,the fear, or the humiliation, or the anger,all those known emotions that had become nightmarishly magnified. Fear of one's own end; humiliation at the prospect of total degradation; anger at the unfairness of it, the approaching annihilation of self. You might spend a lifetime as a literature professor or a psychoanalyst considering the dimensions of the emotional life, chronicling its dips and sways, noting the different ways a person could be gripped by passion or anxiety or rage - only to discover, finally, that we are all bodies, and that the worst there can be of anything is pain. Pain swallows all.
The book does not have a lot of momentous events. It is just a journey of the four central characters through very normal events. The language is beautiful and gripping. A beautiful book.