Before Everything by Victoria Redel Hodder and Stoughton July 6th 2017
The cancer is back and Anna decides that enough is enough, its time to let go and die with dignity. Not everyone agrees with the decision and want her to fight on, but Anna is adamant..
As she prepares to die her close friends from sixth grade, Ming, Molly, Caroline and Helena arrive, each with their own memories of their time with Anna. It is Helena that ultimately struggles with Anna’s decision. How will she survive without her best friend, who will she turn to when she needs that no nonsense advice so readily doled out by Anna.
As Anna’s health declines so the friends look back before everything, before the cancer took hold, to the happy times, and the bad times. They examine their individual relationship with Anna and the gap her death will leave
Sounds grim, and yes, the book and its themes are sad but the writing is such that it is not overly sentimental or will leave you drowning in sorrow. It is more a novel of relationships, and friendship and how the process of saying goodbye and remembering is different for each of us.
The narrative itself is wonderfully done, perfectly capturing the tone of the characters. I particularly enjoyed the character of Helen, the famous artist with a past she would rather forget, yet now happy and about to marry thanks to Anna’s timely interventions. The author skilfully highlights her struggle to accept Anna’s refusal of further treatment and her tenacity in trying to get the friends to persuade Anna not to give in.
The author is very clever in her portrayal of Anna in that you never actually feel sorry for her, sad yes, but you know that she has lived her life as she would wish, that she is ready to die. I felt Redel was trying to highlight the positivity of dying rather than dwelling on the negative, perhaps a chance to reflect and to make changes for those left behind.
There is humour dotted throughout providing the perfect counter balance to the sadness and also a sense of hope, a belief that you can survive the death of someone so very close to you.
The only criticism I have is the use of brief headings interspersed throughout hinting at certain points in their lives, which I found a little confusing at times and sometimes interrupted the flow of the story.
This is a heartrending novel that is beautifully and tenderly written and needs to be put at the top of your TBR pile!
I would like to thank Louise Swannell and Hodder Books for providing a proof copy to read and review.
About the author.
Victoria Redel was born in New York with her two sons. She is the author of three books of poetry and five novels including The Border of Truth and Where The Road Bottoms Out. Redel is on the graduate and undergraduate faculty of the Sarah Lawrence College.