So John asks me to do a review of his cancer book and my immediate (though not vocalised) thought is ‘urrgghh!’ – but I know I WILL do a review because I’ve known John a long time and he’s a fine poet, and he and I have a history of reviewing each other’s books, but this? An account of his stay at a cancer facility in New Zealand? I don’t expect it to be a laugh a minute. I brace myself.
I don’t like the front cover. It doesn’t lead me to believe I’m going to find anything other than trauma and pain inside. The back cover’s better, though I’m not sure I quite believe the claims of ‘redemption and hope’. They sound like blurb hyperbole. I set aside a morning to read it, expecting to have to break off regularly to go and stand in the sun and look at flowers or something to wrench myself out of the harrowing account I expect to find between its pages.
And then I read it, and it’s short, only 56 pages, I get through it in, I don’t know, half an hour or so? I really have no idea. More to the point, I never stop reading; I never go and have a coffee or do some other activity that will keep me away from the text. There are many reasons for this, and one of them is the sheer joy of how the book looks, once you get away from the depressing cover art. The inside pages are a mass of colour, of joyful photos, of stunning graphic design. This is one hell of a slick publication, quite apart from John’s writing. The publisher has done him proud and produced a thing of beauty.
As for the writing itself – it’s everything I would hope from the pen of John Irvine: wry, witty, warm, happy, sad, poignant. As for the promised ‘hope and redemption’ – well yes, though these are not the words I would have used, as they suggest something a bit wishy-washy and sentimental, or worse still, ‘inspirational’. I’d have thrown the book across the room if it had been ‘inspirational’ (metaphorically – I’m reading it on a pc, so the practicalities might have stopped me).
I should also mention that it’s also a cracking good read. It’s about comradeship, about the way people touch each other’s lives in unexpected ways. It’s about the way the most dreaded of circumstances can lead you to places that you couldn’t have foreseen, and can show you precisely what it means to be human – and that is the heart of it; that is why this is an important book.
You And Me And Cancer Makes Three
by John Irvine