Saturday, September 16, 2017

Before Everything by Victoria Redel | Book Review


Take a moment to think about your old friends. The ones you have known the longest; the ones who have seen various versions of ‘you’ (even the editions you’d rather forget). What do they look like? Are they still the same smiling, frizzy-haired children or have they grown greyer and wiser beside you? 

The ‘old friends’ in ‘Before Everything’ are the latter. Victoria Redel has presented a group of female friends in a refreshingly honest story about the trials and tribulations of female friendship: the petty rivalries, the tender care, the bitchy comments, the constant comparisons. However, these are not friends preparing for marriage, thinking about babies, or worrying about their careers – these are friends who are watching their beloved friend dying of cancer.

Anna is beautiful. Everyone who meets her remembers her auburn curls and radiant smile, however, her nurse is unable to picture her as anything but frail, sick and slowly dying. She has amassed a crowd of friends who fill the house she once shared with her children (now grown and creating their own families) and sort of ex-husband Reuben. They bring food, endless piles of food, laughter and memories as they try to convince Anna to keep fighting the cancer. 

She sees how everyone tries to keep the room bright and festive. The lustrous silver and gold of them. She sees the fear on all the faces. But she’s not frightened. She’s finally free of the looping dread. Now she will stop eating. When she was alone with the nurse, she begged the woman to help her die. “I can’t,” the nurse said. “It’s not legal. But you can stop eating. It will move things along. That’s a choice you can make.” Yes, she will stop. Now, here is the party. She will keep this a party. After tonight she knows she won’t make it out of this living room again.

There is a natural tendency for a reader, like this one, who has grown up on the saccharine endings of Hollywood films to hope for a happy ending. Somehow the cancer will disappear, Anna will revive and continue loving her friends and family. This isn’t hinted at by Bedel, it isn’t offered as a potential cliff-hanger or plot device – it’s just a natural human reaction to want to deny death eventually will have a starring role in all of our lives. No, this is a story of love, of friendship and ultimately of death: a death which is surrounded by love (although Anna’s nurse gently reminds the reader – having this many friends and family at the end is rare). A death which will remind you to make memories whilst you can. 

You may not want to read certain parts in public though; there is a real chance you will cry whilst reading it.


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