Friday, September 9, 2016

This Too Shall Pass

Title:  This Too Shall Pass
Author:  Milena Busquets
Publication Information:  Hogarth. 2015 (original). 2016 (translation). 176 pages.
ISBN:  1101903708 / 978-1101903704

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "For some stranger reason, I never considered what it would be like to be forty."

Favorite Quote:  "There's a howling deep inside that usually leaves me well enough alone by day, but at night, when I lie in bed and try to sleep, it rouses and begins snuffling around like an angry cat, scratching my chest, tightening my jaw, hammering at my temples. Sometimes, to appease it, I open my mouth and pretend to scream in silence, but I'm never able to fool it, it stays there, frenzied, trying to break me."

This Too Shall Pass is a book about grief and about learning to live with a loss of a loved one. The death of her mother leaves Blanca unmoored in life and shaken by grief. Such a loss is also the topic of beautiful memoirs such as Wild by Cheryl Strayed and H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. This story is a fictional one.

For such a short book, this story has a lot of characters, and I find myself having a difficult time keeping them straight. Children. Best friends. Boyfriends of best friends. Ex-husbands. Married lover. Friends along the road. All of these characters become a part of Blanca's healing process. After a while, I lose track of the characters especially Blanca's men; there are a lot of them! After a while, I stop even trying because what is important to this story is Blanca and her reactions, not the characters themselves.

Grief and how each of us deals with it is uniquely individual. In this book, Blanca's coping mechanism is to surround herself with family and friends at her inherited estate in the coastal town of Cadaques, Spain, complete with the boat in the water and the serve staff. Grief is grief regardless of your economic status, but the rich girl lifestyle seems to belie some of the complaints Blanca makes through this book.

That leads the other issue of this book. Blanca is not a particularly likable character. Her grief is real, but her outlook, reactions, and actions are all about Blanca. Her coping mechanism also includes a lot of drinking, drugs, and sex.  The most touching part of the book is the epilogue in which this first person narrative directly addresses the grief that is at the heart of it. The rest of the book is more about the drinking, the drugs, and the sex. Interestingly, Wild by Cheryl Strayed also depicts these outlets as part of Cheryl's story. However, it is a small part. That memoir moves forward; this fictional story stays there, which unfortunately makes it not my kind of story.

An unlikable main character in unsavory situations does not automatically make for an unlikable book. Unfortunately, in this case, the first person narrative makes this impression all the stronger because Blanca is all about Blanca. After a while, I just don't want to read her perspective any more.

The book does have moments in which the writing shines; mostly, it is the moments like the epilogue in which Blanca speaks about (almost to) her mother. These monologues capture her grief and the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship. The relationship is never fully explored, but rather hinted at through these moments in the book. Those are the pieces I wish were more prevalent in the book not Blanca's other exploits

As far as the rest, I do wonder if this book loses something in the translation; in other words, are there cultural nuances that simply don't translate and as such make the story less that what it is?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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