Here is a truth that can’t be escaped: for Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes, life is coming to an end…
Rabbit Hayes loves her life, ordinary as it is, and the extraordinary people in it. She loves her spirited daughter, Juliet; her colourful, unruly family; the only man in her big heart, Johnny Faye. But it turns out the world has other plans for Rabbit, and she’s OK with that. Because she has plans for the world too, and only a handful of days left to make them happen.
Here is a truth that won’t be forgotten: this is a story about laughing through life’s surprises and finding the joy in every moment.
Are you getting tired yet of me saying about every book I read that it’s a contender for my book of the year? Well, I’m sorry about that, because I’m about to say it again.
The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin was published in paperback by Black Swan on 1 January (also available for kindle). I’ve rarely been so affected by a book, and I think it’s fair to say that this wonderful book sets the benchmark for everything else that comes after it this year.
Between you and me, I’m actually quite annoyed with myself – netgalley and the publishers sent me an advance reading copy of this one many months ago, and I left it languishing on my kindle. If I’m honest, I think the title put me off a bit (it wasn’t the author – although I’ve only read one by her before, So What If I’m Broken, I really enjoyed it). Then the “buzz” started. First, Richard and Judy got in there (and their people know a thing or two about books..) and put it on their Spring 2015 Book Club list.
Then the reviews started appearing on friends’ blogs – here’s a link to Anne’s lovely one on Random Things Through My Letterbox – and I realised I’d been overlooking something really special. The author was even with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 2 the other night – the interview will still be on iPlayer if you get there quickly. But I don’t care in the least if I’m not first to notice it, I certainly won’t be the last – this book was absolutely wonderful, and I want to tell everyone about it.
On the surface, this is the story of the last days of a young woman dying from breast cancer in a hospice, surrounded by her family and those she loves. This book will make you cry – I was sobbing within pages of starting. But, despite its subject matter, this book is anything but sad and mawkish – it’s actually one of the most uplifting and joyous of books you can possibly read.
It’s also very, very funny. Rabbit – whose name came from her childhood habit of wrinkling her nose while pushing up her glasses – has a large and anarchic family who you will never forget. Her mother Molly is a tremendous creation – she uses the most dreadful language, puts her foot in her mouth with inappropriate statements over and over again, but overflows with love for her family. Every time she appears, she’s quite mesmerising. We see her love for her husband Jack – who doesn’t have her facility with words, but feels every bit as deeply – as they fight to find a last minute solution that will save their daughter. But it’s not just Molly and Jack – every character leaps off the page, fully alive and perfectly rounded.
And I really mean every character – every family member, every friend, the members of the band, the incidental characters like the faith healer, the consultant who Molly plies with sandwiches while exploring all the experimental tests that might be available, the nurses at the hospice who administer Rabbit’s increasing pain relief, the counsellor whose dress sense might be questionable but whose interventions are so thoroughly perfect.
I’ve written and re-written this review. In my first few drafts I told you chunks of the story and picked out some of the characters – Grace, Davey, Marjorie, Juliet – that make it so thoroughly perfect. But I changed my mind – I want you to read it with the sense of wonder that I did. Anna McPartlin has a tremendous gift for observation, and the way she uses dialogue to show you her characters crackles, fizzles and sparkles in a way that can’t help but entrance you. There are some of the most wonderful (and hysterically funny) stories told alongside Rabbit’s bedside – reminiscences about individuals whose paths people have crossed, complete with nicknames familiar to anyone from a rural community (although the accent here is unmistakably Irish) and replete with inappropriate comments. There’s a lot of looking backwards – through her dreams, and the memories of others, we see Rabbit grow from an awkward child into a mother, with her love for her daughter Juliet and her passion for Johnny Faye, the man she’s loved for most of her life.
I could write about this book all day… in fact, I’ve spent several days doing so. What I really can’t convey though – I just don’t have the words – is how it makes you feel. You will cry – I think I read most of the book with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, and I was quite beside myself at the end. But you’ll laugh too – you’ll laugh a lot. You’ll ache at the sheer injustice of it all – how such tremendous love just can’t change the inevitability of the outcome.
Please read it. It’s a long time since I’ve come across a book that I’ve loved so much, and which affected me so deeply – it absolutely took my breathe away.
My thanks to netgalley and publishers Random House UK/Transworld for my advance reading copy.
Anna McPartlin’s debut novel Pack Up The Moon was published in January 2006, it went on to be a best seller both here and abroad. Since then Anna’s written five more best selling novels, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes being her latest. Anna was a stand up comedienne for four years and it is her experience writing sketches that ignited her passion for storytelling. Anna is married to Donal and lives in Wicklow with their four animals. She is currently working on her seventh novel; “Somewhere Inside of Happy” and she also writes for BBC’s Holby City. You can find out more about the author and her novels on her website, and follow her on Twitter.