Monday, April 6, 2009

Review: The Household Guide to Dying

Summary: The Household Guide to Dying is a moving, witty, and uplifting novel about Delia, who writes an acerbic and wildly popular household advice column. When Delia realizes that she is losing her long battle with cancer, she decides to organize her remaining months—and her husband and children’s future lives without her—the same way she has always ordered their household. Unlike the many faithful readers of her advice column—people who are rendered lost and confused when faced with dirty shirt collars—Delia knows just what to do. She will leave a list for her daughter’s future wedding; fill the freezer with homemade sausages, stews, and sauces; and even (maddeningly) offer her husband suggestions for a new wife. She’ll compile a lifetime’s worth of advice for her children, and she’ll even write the ultimate “Household Guide to Dying” for her fans. There is one item on her list, however, that proves too much even for “Dear Delia,” and it is the single greatest task she had set for herself. Yet just as Delia is coming to terms with this, an unexpected visitor helps her believe in her life’s worth in a way that no list ever could.

Imbued with Delia’s love for food, Jane Austen, clucking hens, and fragrant gardens, and interspersed with her secrets to making a pot of tea, removing wine stains from lace, and the ingredients to the perfect wedding cake, this is a gorgeously crafted novel that captures the reader—heart and mind—and expands our understanding of a meaningful life. -- Putnam

THE HOUSEHOLD GUIDE TO DYING by Debra Adelaide is a beautifully written novel that will undoubtedly touch your heart. It is a beautiful novel that was on the longlist for the Orange Prize. I knew that it was going to be difficult to read because it is about a young mother who is dying from cancer, but I had no idea how much this story would touch me. While I don't have a whole lot in common with the main character Delia, I still related to so many of her thoughts and feelings about dying.

First and foremost, this book is incredibly written. Ms. Adelaide writes with such vivid detail and her descriptions of pretty much everything were amazing. I was blown away by how beautiful the prose was -- so many pages were like reading poetry. I was also amazed by how much insight the author had not only dying, but living. The book and the characters struck me as very real, and that's probably what made reading this book such an intense experience. I also appreciated that the author managed to infuse lots of humor into Delia and her life; and that's another reason that I found this story to be so touching. It really was just like life -- happy times, sad times, funny times, etc.

One of the things that touched me the most about this book was that I could really understand Delia's need to get everything in place and accomplish just one more thing. Dying ultimately is about letting go and accepting things, and I think that would be very difficult to come to terms with for control freaks. I have a feeling that, like Delia, I would be similarly inclined to try to maintain control over any element of my life that I could.

Another thing that I really liked about this novel were the little tidbits of advice and household hints that appeared. Delia wrote a household advice column and many of the questions as well as her answers appeared throughout the book. Delia was known for her condescension and sarcastic answers; and I actually found myself laughing at a few of them.

Even though I did relate to some of Delia's actions, I still had a hard time understanding all of them. Of course, it's probably wrong to judge even a fictional character who is dying, but I did find some of her actions to be kind of "out there." I especially found myself questioning some of the things she asked of her family; however, I'm pretty sure that if I knew I were dying, I wouldn't be entirely selfless either. Despite some of her more crazy ideas, I will admit that I was deeply touched by Delia's attempt to make things right for her husband, her daughters, and even her mother. And, I loved what she left of herself for each of them to remember her.

While there is no doubt that this novel is about a woman who is dying, I really felt like it was actually more about living your life to the fullest. I, for one, don't really like to think about dying and leaving my husband and children; however it's unfortunately something that could happen to me. While so much of this book was very, very sad, I absolutely loved how the author described Delia's death at the end of the book -- not only was the writing beautiful, but she made the experience sound so peaceful to me. You can't help but be touched by the last few pages of this novel.

You really should consider THE HOUSEHOLD GUIDE TO DYING for a future book club selection especially if your group is made up of mothers. There is just so much to discuss! You can read a wonderful interview with Ms. Adelaide that definitely enhanced my reading experience. And there is also a reader's guide available which will help keep your discussion on track. I am pretty sure that you could talk for hours about Delia and her life. I know I would love to sit back with some wine and hear my friends' opinions on this book; however, I do think discussion might be hard at times because this book does cause you to think about your own mortality and how you'd cope with it. Or, it just might be a wake-up call about living your life to the fullest!

A big thanks to Mothertalk for allowing me to participate in the book tour.


bermudaonion said...

Wow, that sounds like a pretty heavy read. I think I would have to be in the right state of mind to tackle this one. Great review, as always.

the epic rat said...

This sounds brilliant! I will have to check it out :)

Amy said...

Did you ever see that movie My Life Without Me?

It's also about a really young mother dying of cancer. I didn't understand a lot of her choices, either, but what a tear jerker.

Sounds like a good one.

Gwendolyn B. said...

I'm reading this book myself right now, so I did not want to read your review too closing - just enough to see that you recommend it. It IS a difficult subject, but it's not really depressing. I'm savoring it and enjoying it immensely. I'll come back and compare notes with you once I've finished it.

carolsnotebook said...

I don't know if I'm to reading this. It sounds great, though.

Red lady-Bonnie said...

I just got an ARC copy of this book last week. It does sound heavy but uplifting at the same time.

Beth F said...

It sounds like a heavy read. Not really for me: I've watched people of die of cancer in real life, so I really don't need to know too much more on the topic. Good review, tho!

Missy said...

This might be one that I will add to my wish list. Thanks for the great review!

Jenny Girl said...

sounds like a beautiful read.

S. Krishna said...

Wow, what a review! I'm adding this one to my TBR list right now!

Anna said...

This sounds like a great book, but I'm not sure I could read it. The subject matter sounds too difficult for me. I'll keep it in mind, though. Thanks for the review.

Diary of an Eccentric