The Language of Dying. Book Review

LoDTHE LANGUAGE OF DYING by Sarah Pinborough

PS Publishing Ltd, 88pp small format h/back, £25 cover price (jacketed hardcover)

Reviewed by Alex Bardy (@mangozoid)

While her terminally-ill father lies dying and bed bound, the narrator reflects on her own life and that of her essentially dysfunctional family throughout, and all that this implies. She also asks herself why he chooses to return to see out his last days with her specifically rather than any other family members, and —unusually, but with remarkable judgement on the part of the author— is written mostly as a form of monologue between her and her dying father, referred to throughout as “you” and “your”. Disarming as this may be at first, it’s a subtle and clever form of first person writing which immerses you fully into the narrative, and makes the whole thing even more harrowing when you reach the shocking conclusion.

As members of her family drift in and out of her home to visit Dad, the narrator (never referred to by name) reflects on her life as the middle of five children, and it becomes readily apparent that there’s a very real and very messed up family at the centre of this, and that ‘you’ as the father, on your deathbed, are the linchpin around which everything else had previously been held together.

Short as this is, it’s a superb novella by the very talented Sarah Pinborough, and particularly disturbing is the narrator’s recollection of life with an abusive boyfriend, one that I daresay could only have come from genuine experience at the hands of such a monster. Indeed, you can read Sarah’s blog entry at for more on this (“I don’t know where to put my feet…” dated 19th June 2013).  This is scary, and terrifying, miserable and horrifying, and yet it sucks you in from the very first page through to the last, and will stick in your mind for a long time after you’ve closed the book. And if you’re anything like me you’ll choose to read it all over again just to make sure you did in fact catch every nuance of this brilliant work the first time round.

In his introduction, Graham Joyce says of Sarah Pinborough, “This is writing in another league: honest, courageous, startling and absolutely lucid.” Not many people could say it better than that, and I’m certainly not going to try. This is a must-have for anyone’s bookshelf.

Please note, Sarah Pinborough’s The Language of Dying is due for an extended 144-page re-release by Jo Fletcher Books in December 2013. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy, and recommend you do too.