This book absolutely broke my heart… (5 stars)
Source- personal copy
Published by Random House UK, 1st January 2015
I read the paperback, which was 368 pages
It’s pretty difficult for me to put into words just how much I actually loved this book, which is sort of surprising given its uber-heavy, albeit topical subject matter. A book about a woman in a hospice dying of cancer could have been morbid, possibly even trite or contrived- yet this novel manages to be beautiful, poignant and uplifting all at the same time. In fact, when I looked back at the notes I’d taken about this story in my book journal, the final line encapsulates my feelings in very few words: “it broke my bloody heart.” Yep, it totally did. I finished it this morning and was left a sobbing, bawling mess curled up on the corner of the couch, trying to process my thoughts at its moving, beautiful, yet absolutely appropriately perfect ending. You know how this book is going to end, yet that doesn’t stop you from devouring it, from wanting to know more about Rabbit, for feeling sorrow at her predicament, yet being inspired by her battle and like her, wanting to appreciate the joy in every single moment.
For Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes, her life is sadly coming to an end. Diagnosed with breast cancer, she moves to a hospice to spend her final days, supported by her boisterous family, her young daughter Juliet and her best friend Marjorie. In her dreams she is visited by Johnny Faye, the only man she has ever loved and when she is awake she is surrounded by those people she cherishes the most in the world. This is an uplifting story of love, friendship and family and of finding the light in the darkest and most unexpected of moments.
There were so many aspects to this gorgeous book that I appreciated, first of all though were its realistic, memorable characters, starting with Rabbit herself. In the nine last days of her life, we come to know her heart and soul. Rabbit is a fighter- she’s beaten cancer before but this time, despite the outwardly brave face she puts on it, knows the end is inevitable and is trying to come to terms with her last precious few days and just how to tell her twelve-year-old daughter Juliet that she is dying. Single mum Rabbit also wonders what will happen to Juliet once she is gone. Who will take care of her? It’s an unimaginable, devastating situation for anyone to be in, yet she also worries about the impact her death will have on her parents and siblings. Rabbit is selfless, yet at the same time rightfully angry that she has been robbed of the many years that she should have had left; yet the same can be said about anyone who has lost a similar battle, which is what makes this novel sadly all too realistic. This story makes you think about your own relationships with your loved ones and also teaches you not to sweat the small stuff, because really there are some things more important in life.
The Hayes family are close-knit and loving, but that’s not to say they aren’t without their flaws, which actually made me like them all the more. Rabbit’s dad Jack will move heaven and earth to protect his daughter, yet is crumbling at the mere fact that this time there is nothing he can do to save her; Molly, Rabbit’s mum is looking for divine intervention and Rabbit’s sister Grace is falling apart at the seams. Then there’s Davey, Rabbit’s musician brother, who has been living in America and comes back to Ireland to spend a precious final few days with his sister and his niece, who idolises him. Thrown into the mix are a lot of secondary characters- close friends of Rabbit and Davey who also feel like family and were developed particularly well. I can honestly say that in this book there wasn’t one character that I disliked and didn’t enjoy reading about, which is certainly a rarity for me!
I also enjoyed the flashback sequences, which isn’t always the case with me either. Through Rabbit’s own memories and dreams, we explore her past, her childhood with her family and her first (and only love) Johnny Faye. Oh how I loved Johnny- a local lad, a regular dreamboat singer in a band and the only man for Rabbit. Meeting teenage Rabbit was enjoyable- and the interactions with her and her family were both funny and moving, even when she was a kid. This book genuinely has some cracking one-liners and it’s safe to say that the Hayes family are all pretty potty-mouthed, even Molly. Their realistic dialogue also added some much needed comic relief to the plot and kept it from being too mired in bleakness and sorrow. It was this degree of humour (plus Rabbit’s determination) that stopped this book from being ‘just another story about cancer’ in my opinion. Yes, Rabbit is dying, but she recognises that fact and will do absolutely everything to protect her daughter to the very end, even put a cheerful face on at the very darkest of moments. She was such a remarkable, memorable character.
I read a book by Amanda Prowse last year, coincidentally also about a woman with cancer, and that novel had me in floods of tears. This one though? It nearly had me undone as there is something so personal and intimate imbued in every single page. Honestly. I so admire authors that can make you deeply care about their characters to the extent that when you finish the final page you think about them for ages afterwards; with this book, I can truly say that it wasn’t just the one character I cared about: it was all of them. Rabbit, Juliet and the rest of the Hayes family will stay with me for a very long time- and without a doubt this is definitely going to be one of my favourite reads of 2015. I also reckon this would make a great book club read- but make sure you have some tissues handy.