Reading by Moonlight: How Books Saved a Life by Brenda Walker, reviewed

"This whole plot, - the beginning, middle and end - had been lived before by others, but I had to live through it myself to understand it, to know that agony can be an analgesic, that the memory of pain can itself be a painkiller. " Paul Theroux in The New Yorker as quoted in Brenda' book

Brenda Walker's book, "Reading by Moonlight: how books saved a life", is ultimately about Brenda's journey of breast cancer, from the beginning, through the middle to the end, living it and learning about it, and in particular, her reading journey through, or to be more precise, her memory of the books that she has read over her lifetime that in some way served to help her through this treatment to survival. She tells of her truthful pain and decisions that a woman must make along the way during the process of the treatment (like the decision of whether or not to get cosmetic surgery or not).

It is a very heavily reference novel with at least 52 references to books or publications throughout the book that are in sometimes in such detail that they detract from her very well structured and heartfelt story.  The references that she uses, whilst they are all very relevant to her journey and story, at times, seem to be fleshing it out a little too much and making this piece of writing a little bit self indulgent, showing off how well read she is.  In many ways, this feels like an academic piece, an English literature book, one that I should be taking notes on (I did), which explores all of these books in relation to her circumstances.

Where it fails most, I think is that she has not given enough context of herself.  I was left with a sense of hollowness of who she was, without a depth of her son and a real sense of her place, where she lived.  I  I didn't get a real feel for where she was other than in the west of Australia, which is a big state.  Her son, once introduced, was lost, forgotten.  I was left wondering about the impact that this had on him.  I am aware that she wanted to write about the books, but the personal, emotional journey is important to the reader to.

Where Brenda did really well was to give a fantastic insight into the process of breast cancer treatment, the difficulty of it, and that through the distraction of books and readings she was able to survive and to look forward not back and be grateful, or as Robinson Crusoe said, "I am here, not there."


We read this for our book club, and the scoring in our book club was from 2/10 - 6/10.  Most felt that the quotations were arduous, and a distraction to the story.  A couple really enjoyed the references and the re-storytelling of them that Brenda did of them.  Brenda highlighted how incredibly wellread she is and most of the book club had wished that she have given more of herself to the book rather than her book reviews.

Have you read it?  What did you think of it?

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