by Anne Tyler
Chatto & Windus, 2012
Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Tyler has returned to her characteristic writing best in The Beginner’s Goodbye. Admittedly I was a little underwhelmed with her last offering Noah’s Compass, but she has returned with trademark stylish simplicity in The Beginner’s Goodbye. Having just turned the last page, I am already mourning the end of a marvellous read.
Tyler’s talent is to take the everyday and write about it in the most beautiful and unordinary fashion. In The Beginner’s Goodbye she introduces us to thirty-something Aaron Woolcott whose wife Dorothy dies in unexpected circumstances. As we live through Aaron’s initial shock and mind-numbing grief, Tyler gifts the reader with descriptions of simple beauty and clarity which perfectly depict his situation. For instance, upon returning to his empty house which only that morning he had shared with his wife, Aaron goes into the kitchen and see a cup left it in the sink, reacting with a simple yet painfully poignant thought: “Sometimes the most recent moments can seem so long, long ago”. Later, as he deals with the cocoon of goodwill which threatens to suffocate him, he thinks: “That was one of the worst things about losing your wife, I found: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with”.
As Aaron wanders somewhat aimlessly through his grief, he begins to experience occasions where Dorothy returns to him; he sees her, can feel her presence and he can converse with her. This is the crux of the The Beginner’s Goodbye: whether a dead spouse can return to a grieving spouse’s consciousness. We are left to make up our own minds about whether Aaron imagines Dorothy’s return, or if it tangibly occurs, but Tyler leaves us in no doubt as to the purpose of her return.
This novel is beautifully written in Tyler’s inimitable style. Aaron is a somewhat prickly protagonist, however it is difficult not to sympathise with him. The cast of supporting characters are intelligently drawn and all have their part to play in Aaron’s grief and recovery. The ending will no doubt be passionately debated by book clubs far and wide, but I adored it.