My god this book melted my heart. It broke through my stony exterior and made my eyes leak.
I blubbed, I blubbed a lot and I loved it.
In a hospital in Glasgow, 17-year-old Lenni is living on the terminal ward and is running out of time.
Bored and against doctor’s orders – because Lenni has a rebellious streak – she joins an art class full of 80-year-olds. There she meets Margot who is 83, awaiting heart surgery and also a rebel. The two strike up an instant bond and become friends.
Between them they’ve lived for one hundred years and decide to mark their centenary by painting 100 pictures that represent their lives. Through their paintings we learn the story of their lives.
This book is simply beautiful. It is a celebration of life and love; it shows there are no barriers to friendship and that friendship can be found in the most surprising of places.
Margot tells Lenni stories about a father traumatised by war, her first kiss with her husband, a marriage torn apart by grief, her meeting with the enigmatic Meena and her marriage to astronomer Humphrey.
Lenni shares memories of her first kiss, a mother who struggles with her mental health, moving to Glasgow and being told she’s terminally ill.
They’re both quirky characters who will stay with you long after the final page.
I loved Margot’s story, it surprised me. She’d known loss and unrequited love; she’d picked herself up and carried on. I loved her 30-year marriage to Humphrey, their chance meeting and how he taught her to love the stars. What Humphrey did for Margot in the end when his health was failing completely broke me (if you read it or have read it you must know exactly what I mean).
The way she cared for Lenni, who was alone, was so tender. It’s, on the outset, an unlikely friendship, after all there is a 66-year age gap between the two, but their interactions did ring true and by the end of the story it had very much turned into a mother daughter relationship. She’s there as her health fails and there at the end, talking to her, comforting her and being the mother figure, she hasn’t had for many, many years.
“but then I realised you’re not down there in the earth, you’re somewhere else now. Beautiful and painless and free. I promise” Marianne Cronin
Lenni is wonderfully quick witted, she has many friends within the hospital, I loved her visits to the hospital chapel and her chats with Father Arthur. Their conversations made me laugh, she’d tie him in knots, ask the difficult questions and in no way allowed him to fob her off with cliched answers; she’d get him to admit that he simply “Didn’t know”. Their friendship isn’t as adversarial as I’ve made it sound, it is warm, funny and loving.
As a reader you really hear her intelligence and wit, I could see her verbally sparring with people with her bright blonde hair and pink pyjamas.
Marianne Cronin’s debut is wonderful. It isn’t depressing, there were times I completely forgot that Lenni was dying. It’s warm, filled with touching moments, moments that will make you laugh and smile, it’s a story that is really a love letter to friendship and life.
You will need tissues (I ugly cried), there clearly isn’t going to be a happy ending but the message is beautiful, it’s not about how long you’re here or even what you do, you will leave a mark on the lives of those who love you and, in some way, you’ll always be here.
“Do you know,’ she said slowly, ‘that the stars that we see the clearest are already dead? […] it’s not depressing, it’s beautiful. They’ve been done for who knows how long, but we can still see them. They live on.” Marianne Cronin
As always I’d love to know your thoughts on this book, thanks for reading 🙂
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm