Another of the Stella Prize short listed books on my reading list, Dying: A Memoir was surprisingly a very short book. A very short book that manages to share a great deal in it’s 147 pages. Cory Taylor was an award winning Australian novelist, who started with TV and film writing, moved to children’s book and eventually turned to novels after being diagnosed with melanoma back in 2005. This book was written in a only few weeks and was published in 2016 months before she passed away. I didn’t quite know what I was expecting with this novel but it certainly was not what I imagined, it was so much more.
What strikes me about this novel is the stoic way in which Taylor writes. Don’t get me worn there is sadness and longing for more time to send with her family, to finish out her life but it is a more wistful sadness, an understanding and acceptance, rather than a heart-breaking realisation that she intends to fight to her last breath. Her analysis of what it is to be dying, what has ran through her head since she realised it was an inevitability is so astute, so insightful it blew my mind. She touches quite a bit on the debate regarding euthanasia, and if anyone is qualified to express their opinion on this topic, Taylor is the one. Her thoughts regarding this topic are so penetrating that I dare anyone opposed to the idea to read her words and tell me why this should not be an option for the terminally ill. The first section gave me much to think about and just blew me away with passage after passage of some of the most pellucid writing that I have ever experienced.
What really makes these points so powerful, so unforgettable is the eloquent prose of Taylor. This book may have been written in a few weeks but it is clear these thoughts had been developing over a long time and their is a fluidity of the writing that is beautiful. It is clear that despite her late start, Taylor has had a life-long love affair with writing, with words. In fact she recall beginning writing back in high school, trying her hand at poetry. This clear affinity for the written word makes her book a pleasure to read, even just for the way the words form on the page.
The second two parts of the book discuss Taylor’s family history and her life growing up and as an adult. Clearly Taylor, and her parents, all lived full and fascinating lives, yet she keeps these stories succinct and personable. The reader is not allowed to get bored or have their attention wander. Taylor completes this memoir with skill and precision, not wasting an unnecessary word nor drawing out her story needlessly. She shows remarkable restraint and is part of what keeps this book memorable. Each passage is important, each passage in interesting and each passage teaches the reader something. It leaves me wanting more and I fully intent to read her two other novels.
Dying: A Memoir is a unique look into a life shortened, yet well lived. The prose is masterful and memorable. Taylor’s explanations of what it feels like to know your life is limited, how she has dealt with it and her reasons for why she thinks it should be legal to choose your own demise in a terminal situation are compelling and well-executed. I urge you all to give this book a go and give Dying: A Memoir four airplanes taking Taylor all over the world.