Thursday, February 10, 2022

Review: Lily Harford's Last Request

Title: Lily Harford's Last Request
Author: Joanna Buckley

Publisher: 2nd February 2022 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA

Pages: 256 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, women’s fiction

My Rating: 5 cups


Lily Harford is nearing the end of her once joyful life - and for her, it can't come soon enough. Who will have the courage, kindness and love to grant her last request? A compassionate and heartfelt story for readers of Jodi Picoult, Tricia Stringer and Fiona Lowe.

Knowing she is sliding into dementia, Lily Harford is ready to give up her life ... but can she persuade someone to commit the illegal act of taking it from her?

Lily has lived a joyful, independent life in a seaside town in Queensland, running her own business and raising a daughter as a single mother at a time when few women did so. Now health and circumstance have pushed her into a nursing home, and her memory is failing, although events of the past remain fresh. Like pulling back the layers of a Russian doll, Lily recalls the former selves - mother, professional woman, lover, daughter - who still exist inside her.

Lily's daughter, Pauline, has been pushed to her limits by her demanding job, as well as the needs of her mother, husband, daughter and grandchildren. And now her mother is begging to die. Nurse aide Donna, still recovering from a dysfunctional childhood and the demise of her marriage, finds comfort in Lily's kindness and down to earth wisdom. As Lily fades, she asks Donna, too, to help her end her life.

A thought-provoking, vivid and moving exploration of how we value a life well lived, and the decisions we make when that life is coming to an end.

My Thoughts

‘… sometimes I close my eyes and say something, just to allow myself the momentary fantasy that it’s a youthful me uttering the words. I know that sounds stupid and foolish but in lots of ways, inside, I don’t feel all that different to when I was young.’

Lily Harford's Last Request was never going to be an easy read but I was unprepared for just how beautifully Joanna captures this contemporary issue of assisted dying. With exceptional writing offering three viewpoints that comprehensively explore the struggles and complexity of this poignant and thought provoking topic. Taking place over a period of eighteen months, Joanna gives her readers three narratives with an inclusion of flashbacks from Lily’s past also embedded in the tale. The final epilogue over some six years later brings it neatly to conclusion. 

‘In other cultures the elderly are revered, kept close to the family fold, their wisdom actively sought, their presence valued and appreciated. I don’t want outsiders to handle the burden of my decline, where I’m shunted off to an artificial world, a final whistle-stop where people don’t so much live as wait to die.’

Providing three narratives allows Joanna to provide multiple perspectives that provide a holistic tale with at least one sure to speak to her readers. Firstly, there is Lily the mother who is aware of her ageing and mental deterioration. Some see her wish as cowardice, others more decidedly courageous. Secondly, her daughter Pauline who finds herself not only struggling in adjusting to her mother’s condition but at a stage in her life where she is fighting her own demons. Finally, there is the carer, Donna, who through her interactions with Lily comes face to face with life challenges that have continued to plague her. 

‘She was sure her husband simply saw fatigue and disgruntlement, when what she was experiencing was a mental frailty she’d never known - and couldn’t reconcile within herself.’

All three women combine to produce a deeply emotional read that resonated with me on multiple levels. Indeed, it is confronting in its resonance as I could identify with something from each of their individual stories. The fear of losing one’s mind and memories deteriorating provides a physical and emotional upheaval entering into the frailties that age brings and its impact on those nearest and dearest. 

‘The reality is there’s been a role reversal: in growing old I have, in all practical matters, become the child and they the parents.’

Joanna’s writing on both the overarching theme and the three distinct narratives is done with such compassion and the utmost sensitivity. Relationships, decisions, resolutions will have readers considering what their own actions would be. The prologue and ending adds that mysterious dimension that engages readers on another level regarding the final outcome. 

‘I’m having a good day. I’m focused. Unlike other times when I almost scream at the frustration of not being able to draw forward a name or idea or object from the black depths of my memory, to bring it somewhere in the light where I can take hold of it and speak it and swish it around in my mind like I would a pleasing taste in my mouth. That luxury, of not ever having to give a second thought to the instant and easy accessibility of language, has gone.’

I highly recommend Lily Harford's Last Request in both its exploration and celebration of a life, love and ageing. Wherever you are on your own life journey - grandmother/father, mother/father, daughter/son - this book is sure to touch your heart with its careful look at how choices are never simple and very rarely easy.  

‘I’ve possessed a sharp mind all my life. It’s been the cornerstone of my success and my whole self-image. Without it, what am I?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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