The Diving by Helen Walne (published by Penguin Books in 2014)
“I’m sorry about your mum. This life/death thing is so hard. But it’s all we’ve got.”
These were Helen Walne’s words to me on Twitter. I had told her how much I loved her new book, The Diving, and how the bits about loss really resonated with me. These particular words of hers stuck with me because they were just so…true.
We can rage against what fate throws at us and the ones we love but in the end, is there another alternative?
No. This is life and this is how it goes.
The Diving is not a book about suicide. There is a suicide in it, but this book is far more than that.
Mostly it’s a book about love. And about loss. But also recovery.
It is, as Henriette Rose-Innes says on the back cover, “not a dark book, but dappled with light and shade, poetry and comedy, empathy and exasperation, wisdom and fear”.
Suicide is a taboo that is scarcely spoken about. It has affected all of us, in some shape or form, but us humans tend to clam up about it.
And it doesn’t discriminate. It affects poor people, rich people, old and young, women and men. Miners. Teachers. CEOs. The successful and the downtrodden.
We lost a friend this way at the end of last year. And at his funeral and wake, that’s all we were trying to do, we were simply trying to understand. To find reason. But I think that’s fairly impossible for most of us.
We don’t know the intricacies of another’s brain. The depth of feeling. We can try, but we will never really know.
And that’s what I loved about this book. It’s an attempt to understand but also to share with us very honestly how this could happen, how someone could find that the only solution left to them was to take their own life.
Helen lost her brother Richard and when people asked her why he had killed himself she would say: “He couldn’t handle the pain anymore. He was tired of being half a man”.
She says it would have been easier if he had been wrecked from the outside, not on the inside. Because then it would have been simpler for everyone to see.
The difference between someone who takes their own life and someone who doesn’t is often so tiny that it’s impossible to see.
A minuscule chemical difference in our brains. In our wiring.
A fluke of birth, most times entirely out of our control. Helen’s book asks so many questions, seeking answers in philosophy, in psychology , in online support forums and in her family’s history.
But her conclusion is one many of us who have lost people to suicide will know and identify with: “We have learnt to live without answers. We do the best we can”.
Helen’s journey through trying to save her brother and then watching him slip away is expertly told and very real. I loved her writing style and finished the book in just a couple of sittings.
Her final insight is that it’s good to talk. Because it’s only in talking about suicide that we can break down the stigma attached to it, that suicide is “somehow shameful and grisly”.
Ultimately though, this is an uplifting story. I may have cried buckets but really, this is a story of how resilient us humans are.
How much we can handle and still find happiness.
As Helen writes: “…we carry on. We buy more Marmite. We lace up our shoes. And after some time, we even start to see green in the grass…For to be here is to suffer. When we first blink open our eyes, we are doomed to have, to hold and then let go.”
Read The Diving. It is thought provoking, it is beautifully written, it is often amusing. But most of all – it is life affirming.
Read more of Belinda’s reviews on her blog.
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