by Ray Kluum
This is clearly autobiographical and it’s appallingly honest. The protagonist, named Dan, is weak and sentimental; his wife, Carmen, is strong and patient. We know this because when Carmen is diagnosed with breast cancer, which turns out to be an aggressive form that turns terminal, she mostly handles her fear and pain with dignity and forbearance (and a whole lot of shopping). Dan, on the other hand, always a bit of a philanderer, deals with her dying by turning up the heat, becoming almost pathological in his womanising.
It’s an extraordinary story of a young, successful, have-it-all couple who seem to be on the brink of losing it all, starting with self-respect. There’s a high incidence of marital breakup associated with a diagnosis of breast cancer; Dan is living the cliché. The courage with which Kluum sets out Dan’s actions and reactions speaks of a man who’s gone beyond self-loathing into redemption, but who won’t forget how very badly he let himself down.
You learn a lot about living through cancer treatment in this book; you also learn a lot about the vanities and fallibilities and lack of certainties that lie at the cutting edge of extreme medical intervention. A really, really powerful read which headed straight to the top of the bestseller lists in Kluum’s native Netherlands, picking up a few awards, and going into translation along the way.
(Review by Heather Parker)