Throughout the book, the chapters flit back and forth to memories of her life, all mixed with the fog of dying and being in that place of in between. There are elements of this book that are in some ways reminiscent of The Notebook.
I can't say it was a page turner, or a riveting read. It took me quite a while to get through it. Many places were too dry or ordinary to keep my attention. Or perhaps my attention was just greater on other things. I know that to be true with my attention span.
That being said, I found myself relating to much of the story and reflecting and traveling along with Isobel. The author uses such rich descriptions of ordinary things that I felt them, saw them, experienced them along with Isobel. Rather than life being a journey, whereupon completion of it, one reflects on the big accomplishments of contributions one has made, it seems to be just a stringing together of moments of the ordinary and how those all add up. Isobel is very much the mother and wife and product of the time period (early adult life in the 1930's). The primary focal points of her life is her relationship with her husband and children, a mentally ill friend who ends up the scandal of the local town, and her strength amid her losses. It could be anyone's life really. Perhaps that's what made is so accessible.
Perhaps it was the timing of reading it, but I pondered what it will be like, when my own mother is in a hospital bed facing her last moments and I am sitting bedside vigil. The descriptions of her son sitting with her brought it all into very real focus. I will be there someday. The losses she experienced made me contemplate when those losses may befall me, and how I will respond to them if and when they happen. In the final chapters I was moved to tears several times as Isobel lets go of life, and has flashes of memory all pieced together to make a life, her life.
I was also struck by some passages in the book that refer to what I would call in my healing work as "cell memory"; those things that continue to plague us physically that are a result of a past trauma. Here are a couple of examples:
Regarding visceral memories associated with the loss of a loved one (who I will not identify) who died an icy death:
"Her health held, but with an odd exception. At the close of three singular winter nights in three consecutive years, Isobel was hospitalized with breathing difficulty. Thomas took her to the emergency room after she'd called in the middle of the night, gasping and nearly incoherent. By the third trip he had grasped the connection the doctors never could. All of those nights were threaded together by the possibility of ice, the air cold enough to freeze lakes, even rivers. All share the same sapphire cold stillness as the night [X] died."
And with regards to a character who befell some tragedy in August:
"...An elegant character who walks the campus on moonlit spring nights reciting dead poets. More tired than usual at the close of each dusty August and never sure why. The body's memory."
So this book made me think of many things while reading of an ordinary life and an ordinary passing. The language was often moving and beautiful. A worthy read.