Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir

Une mort tres douce was first published in 1964. Simone de Beauvoir's memoir of the time her mother spent in hospital with terminal cancer is considered to be her masterwork. Not having read any of de Beauvoir's belles-lettres previously, this translation (by Patrick O'Brian) in audiobook format (Recorded Books; 3 hours) was an excellent introduction for me.

Intellectual and emotional considerations inherent to the situation balance each other. Simone and her sister Poupette don't know if they should tell their mother the truth about the seriousness of her illness. They grapple with the question of prolonging her life (and her suffering). Most surprising to them is their mother's will to remain alive, even through extreme pain.

Narrator Hillary Huber is skillfully unobtrusive in the role of de Beauvoir speaking English. Brief piano interludes separating the chapters add a graceful touch to this thoughtful and compassionate work.

Synchronicity between the books I read continues to delight me. Pairing A Very Easy Death with The Weird Sisters (another book featuring a mother with cancer) was accidental. The epilogue to A Very Easy Death is the verse from Dylan Thomas which begins Do not go gentle into that good night. The epilogue to The Weird Sisters is also from Thomas, an excerpt from A Child's Christmas in Wales (the part with the firemen that ends with the question, "Would you like anything to read?") And, a book I read last week, Matched, features an illegally-acquired poem (not one of the sanctioned 100) - of course it is Do not go gentle into that good night. Cool.

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