Archives for posts with tag: Susan Hill

”She has a lump on her – her breast, like a gull’s egg.”

”Your mother has a cancer.”

‘He was silent. The whole room was full of the silence and the weight of what she had said lay upon him.’

In Black Sheep, Evie has noticed her mother-in-law Alice’s increasing fatigue and weight loss – ‘Alice looked as if the tiredness had settled in the marrow of her bones.’ Not content with her husband’s diagnosis of ‘ailing somehow’, Evie challenges Alice to share what she suspects her mother-in-law has been suffering from, and which she has hitherto been hiding:

‘The swelling was the size of an apricot, pushing against the skin.’

What particularly moves me about this passage, is how both women immediately, and silently, acknowledge the significance of the swelling. Reminiscent of Susan Sontag’s kingdoms of the ill and of the well, with a very narrow gap between the two, the chapter ends poignantly, and tenderly:

‘She put her hand on the other woman’s arm and rested it there, and so they stood, both silent, as if they were staring into the depths of the same river but from opposite banks.’

CQ

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Susan Hill’s novel, written in 1974, is a story about loss, relationships, and about how we mourn.

The acute loss central to the story results from the sudden death of Ruth’s young husband Ben. However, a more global pre-existing loss is also unmasked by the tragedy.

Ruth is devastated by Ben’s death, and inhabits a place of unremitting despair where she is untouchable by others. Reluctantly, she attends the funeral, where she resents the mourning of others:

‘She imagined the line of dark mourners mounting the stairs and peering into the coffin. As Ben. Ben. How could they? How could so many people have touched him and looked at him, unasked, since the moment of his death, when she herself had not?

But it was better. She thought, they don’t have Ben.’

‘They were forcing her to take part in some curious ritual of their own…’

My sister’s husband died a few years ago, and I can see her response to his death, and to fellow-mourners, in Ruth’s behaviour. At the time, I struggled with my sister’s reaction, as I tried to deal with both his loss from our lives and also her belief that only she was entitled to mourn this loss.

Ruth, with time, comes to realise the wide-reaching effects of Ben’s death:

‘The death of Ben Bryce had been like a stone cast into still water, and the water had become a whirlpool with Ruth sucked down into the terrible heart of it. But the waves spread out, through the countryside down to the village and beyond the village. People felt changed, as if by war or earthquake or fire, even those who lived closest to death and knew its face.’

She comes to acknowledge her behaviour at the time:

‘But she had been too wrapped up, first within the warm womb of her happiness with Ben, and then in the cold shell of grief. She had not thought of anyone.’

We read to find ourselves, and to witness experiences that resonate with our own. Thus, within In the Springtime of the Year, I found some consolation in its echoes of my sister’s reaction to her husband’s death:

‘…she had kept Ben’s death to herself, as a private thing, tried to possess it utterly and allow no one else the right to mourn…’

CQ