Book Review – Undying (A Love Story) by Michel Faber

GoodReads Rating: 5 Stars

This devastating book of grief and loss, death and heartache, has seeped its way into my very soul. This is the first Michel Faber book I have read, and as bizarre as it may sound, I think he instantly became one of my favorite writers after reading this collection, if not, one of my favorite poets of all time (although this is only the second poetry collection I have ever read for pleasure and not for education, so my experiences with poetry are extremely limited). His words, his emotion, everything about every single poem in this collection drew me in so hard, and catapulted me back out feeling like the poem itself had absorbed a small part of me, and I of it.

Undying is a collection of poems written by Michel based on his experiences with losing his wife to cancer, Eva died in 2014 of cancer of the bone marrow. The book is split up into two parts, the first an adventure in waiting for death, and second in dealing with the aftermath. The reader is taken on a most personal insight into the life of a man who is forced to watch the most important person in the world to him die, powerless to intervene.

Having never had to deal directly with cancer, being one of the very lucky people who have yet to lose someone to this most horrific disease, I was hugely effected by this collection. The themes of grief, of loss, love, hopelessness, sadness, and anger, all spoke to me in a way that poetry never really has before. If someone is looking to get into poetry, then this would be an ideal (but heartbreaking) first collection. These poems don’t just make you think about yourself and your situations in life, but because you know that Michel is speaking from his own, horrendously sad experiences, it hits you as hard as it would if this story of loss were a documentary. You can see his pain, can see the candid ways in which he would carry on his own life after the death of his wife, Eva. His poems give you an insight into the logistics of losing someone, which can just solidifify the loss in your mind.

‘The helpline man

refuses to help

because I am not you.

He needs – by letter – proof

that you are dead, he needs

to see your name and your disease

and the date your suffering ended’ 

from Account Holder by Michel Faber

Michel Faber’s story of the loss of Eva has touched me in the very deep and personal way. I still think about the words, they linger with me as I go about my day. They make me want to reach out to him and help, to reach out to anyone going through anything like that and try to help them through it. I wish Michel all the happiness in the world, because nothing is as devastating as the loss of human life, and I applaud him for channeling those feelings into the most touching piece of literature I have ever read.

Undying deals with illness and death in a way that society should learn to do more often. We often sweep death under the rug, we donate and fundraise for all these cancer charities, without ever stopping to think properly about what it takes to go through that, what the person suffering, and their loved ones actually feel. More people need to stand up to tell their stories like Michel, from the domestic duties of care, to the process of trying to live in a world without the most important person you’ve ever known by your side.

Undying is available now, published by Canon Gate books.

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