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.