Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Books 46 & 47 of 2016: The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel & Dear Almost a poem by Matthew Thorburn

Yesterday I shared The Hogwarts Tag which included a picture of my Halloween costume for last year. I very carefully hand-lettered a book cover for a Muggle Studies textbook. That 'textbook' was actually the 46th book that I read last year, The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel, the fourth book in the Earth's Children series.

When it's not dressed up as a Hogwarts school book, it looks like this:

This book follows Ayla and Jondalar's journey back across all the land that Jondalar spent the last two books travelling through. Their journey is pretty time sensitive as the last bit of the journey requires them to cross a glacier and warmer weather is rapidly approaching. They meet up with a lot of other people and have a lot of hot prehistoric sex!

This is a massive book; it clocks in at 724 pages! This was the main reason I picked it to become a Hogwarts textbook because it looked suitably massive enough to be a magical book. Sadly I don't have Hermione's beaded bag so it took me nearly a month to read as it had to stay at home rather than come out in my bag; if I'd taken it with me there was very little room for anything else!

I think it would have been better as at least two, if not three books. Ayla and Jondalar spend time with several different tribes and since Auel goes into so much detail on everything that even more detail could've been given to the cultures and the book wouldn't have been so huge. There was SO MUCH of this book dedicated to the scenery and the flora and fauna that I couldn't help but skim read those bits.

And then there's the sex. There's so much sex. Ayla and Jondalar regularly stop to 'share Pleasures', which isn't bad in and of itself but the book could have been about two hundred pages shorter if they'd not stopped to bonk quite so often!

When I finished this on the 24th of November I was initially at a bit of loss for what to read next and just planned to select a Christmas read from my Kindle when I arrived home from work to find a package from Stacy @ Stacy's Books. It contained a copy of Dear Almost a poem by Matthew Thorburn.

This is a book length poem, written after the author and his wife experienced a miscarriage. It's addressed to the child who they never got to meet.

It arrived on exactly the right day, the one year anniversary of losing our twins and it was just what I needed to read. I'm not sure I can even formulate the words to explain just how beautiful this book is. I had a physical ache in my chest as I read it. I stopped up late and cried.

You can actually feel the love and grief in the words on the page, but in a way it was also nice to read. Pregnancy loss is one of those things which is so rarely spoken about, it was strangely validating to read a book written by someone who experienced it and had gone through all those emotions you had felt and were feeling.

I don't normally share quotes on my book review posts anymore, but this one had so many quotes I wanted to save in my book journal that I can't help but share the top five I selected to copy out in the the end, because this will explain my feelings for this book far better than any words I can use.

Pages 25 & 26
I want to show you
what life is like
here where you ought to be
with us, but aren't:
a not-uncommon story
though few people will tell you

it's their story too. They choose
not to relive it, relieved
not to revisit what happened
or didn't. What should have.
What went wrong
for no other reason, finally,
than that it didn't go right.
Ours is the story of how
is became was and was became
wasn't, became no,
became not. The story of
our almost girl, our might've been.

Page 41
This is the story of
what's missing, a space
one can see only
because we've filled in
everything around it:
keyhole I peer through
to what I can't hold,
little hole in my heart
where the air leaks out,
little no more, no luck or way
or how.

Page 44
I think of you still,
so still, and not there anymore
in that dark room,
though I ought to know
better, though I feel
the tiny light I cup
deep inside me gutter
and go out. "It's strange,"
Lily says when
I come home, "and unsatisfying, isn't it?
To hurt like this for someone

we never met?"

Pages 53 & 54
a piece of me that's
missing. I almost didn't
know she was there
but she was there and now
she's gone.

Pages 71 & 72
It scares me
I can no longer
picture your face,
which was only ever
my imagining of
how your face
might look someday -
not enough
to hold onto.
I've had to learn to live
with this: we
didn't see you, didn't
meet you, only
knew you
were there a little while
and then you weren't.

There are lots of little repeated motifs through the book as the seasons change and the author seems to come to terms with the loss they experienced. The sense of loving someone you never got to meet and really knew nothing about, but who you loved completely unconditionally.

Even if you've never suffered that kind of loss yourself, read this book. It might just give you a glimpse into what other people have suffered and you might come close to getting a tiny sense of understanding.

Just read it.


  1. Certainly remember reading Jean Auel's books as a teenager (light relief whilst studying for "A" levels and I think I've picked up a copy of this one but haven't got round t reading it yet - might do now! - obviously because of all those descriptions of flora and fauna!!The quotes from the poem are so very tender and I can see why this book will always be close to your heart. Thank you for sharing :)

    Special Teaching at Pempi’s Palace

  2. Hi Cait - I've never read the Jean M Auel books ... but probably should I gather: one day I suspect. I can imagine the 'Dear Almost' is a very interesting book about what might have been ... as I know you have experienced ... my thoughts to you both ... Hilary


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