Did You Ever Have a Family – Bill Clegg

This is a book about the unthinkable. All your family gone, in one sweep… There’s no one left. How do you deal with this? Should you deal with this? Or maybe this is a blow that has to kill you?
I expected a kicking, screaming and wailing book, but this book is surprisingly quiet.

The book focuses on telling the story of June and Lydia, both of them lost their family in the same tragic fire. It is told by several characters, starting with the main ones but including also the wedding caterer and neighbour’s son.  Chronology is ignored, because it’s not important, showing people’s perception of the story and how their lives intertwine seems to be the purpose.

Initially I thought this book will be about loss and grief people feel after someone, or as in this case everyone, close them dies – it’s not, or not only about it.

This book is about how such loss makes people numb, how brain protects itself from fully acknowledging what happened. You know the stages of accepting change or grief. It starts with denial, then anger, then bargaining and then acceptance (I may have skipped some). I think in this book we get the initial denial, in the form of numbing shock that lasts for months. Then the characters seem to evolve to some sort of acceptance, coming from their reluctant interactions with other people. What eats on them is not only the loss, it is everything that happened before that, things that led them to this point.

It’s also about how families are formed and unformed. How people feel guilt even if they don’t know what they’ve done wrong. How they crave forgiveness for the wrong they did, even if they understand it long time after. How random events and meetings change our life and bring new people into it, whether we want it or not. It shows that no matter what we think we’re never completely alone and detached from other people, because people’s lives are formed of interactions.

As I said before the book is very quiet, introspective almost. It relates the stories from several points of view, making sure we do not focus solely on one aspect. It is a sad and melancholic read, but one that also gives hope that shows no matter how much we may feel everything is over, there always is more.

Writing is great, language and imagery adjusts to every narrator, almost as if they see the world through different optic filters. It pulls you in, making you gasp at the tragedy, but then it shows human resilience, the need of human contact in the face of tragedy, the comfort that it brings. Hope.

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