Michel Faber (www.michelfaber.com)

Canongate (canongate.tv)


Something of a mini-review today, in order to share a surprise book that I inhaled in a single sitting and feel the strong urge to share it with the world.

On 7th July 2014 Michel Faber’s wife, Eva, died of multiple myelomas – cancer of the bone marrow. In his first poetry collection, Undying: A Love Story, Faber documents his wife’s final months, and his own first steps as a widower through a series of poems that run the gamut from laugh-out-loud funny to heart-wrenching misery.

I have mentioned before on this blog my aversion to poetry, so I was apprehensive going in. It’s a slim volume – barely 120 pages – but within a handful of pages the reader becomes so engrossed in this intimate account of suffering and death that the medium barely matters. It is beautifully written, and the poetry allows Faber to tell his story using a spare language that still manages to evoke a deep empathy in the reader: we feel what the poet feels, and we will never be quite the same again.

The poems are arranged, as described by Faber in his touching Foreword, “in their appropriate place in the narrative of losing and grieving for Eva.” As a result, this collection represents a journey, from diagnosis, through horrific treatment and all that it involves, through death, funeral, and the coping mechanisms employed by a man in his fifties who has just lost his world. Some of the poems are designed to strike fear in the heart of the reader (the list of side effects for example, that make up “Contraindications”), some a sense of hope, however fleeting (“Remission”) and at least one will make even the hardest heart melt, and the most stoic reader cry

For twenty minutes, thirty maybe,

my eyes were closed.

That was the time you chose.

What comes after is succinctly recorded in poems like “Risotto” (the last mouthfuls of his dead wife’s cooking) and “Your Plants” (“I never asked for them./I never promised anything.”). The standout for me is the wonderful “Don’t Hesitate To Ask”, where Faber answers those well-meaning folk who offer help, “anything at all”.

Wait for me while I break

down the boardroom door

and drag the high and mighty fucker

out of his conference with Eternity

Undying: A Love Story is less love story and more love letter, the poems all addressed to Eva herself. It’s an intimate and devastating insight into what can only be described as a very personal experience of two people who are obviously very much in love. It is essential reading, but should only be started when you’re sure you have time to read it cover to cover. Keep a box of tissues handy, but be prepared for moments of pure beauty amidst the darkness. Beautiful, life-changing, unmissable.

3 thoughts on “UNDYING: A LOVE STORY by Michel Faber

  1. “Poetry allows Faber to tell his story?”
    Faber since 2012 has been selling HER story.
    She was ill, He was inviting journalists to share the news of the anticipation of her death..
    She is dead,He seeks all the attention and wants the ‘credit’.
    People who have lost a relative or a friend from cancer/HIV, do not need any Faber to tell them how ugly or nasty things get. They KNOW. I was not moved by his poems and I did not learn anything new.
    Actually we all learn the news about his new editor,the Honourable Louisa Young,who is grieving for the loss of her boyfriend. She is writing a memoir about him,Faber is writing a biography about his late wife. They are BOTH Fiction Writers. Do I believe them or their intentions?!

    1. I didn’t mean “his” story in such a literal sense but rather in the sense of “the story he wants to tell”. Neither is it “her” story; it’s their story.

  2. I don’t believe it is a story at all. It is a process, a form of grieving, a way of handling things that just so happens to have been made public. My wife recently died of a very similar condition. The journey towards her death and the aftermath have been almost beyond human endurance. For two months I wrote to her every day until I realised I was writing the same things over and over. So I sought to find a new way to relieve my torture and I found this by writing poetry. It enables me to put so much more feeling into fewer words and, as a process of bereavement handing, it does work.

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