The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

31318253In this emotionally gripping, genre-defying novella from Sarah Pinborough, a woman sits at her father’s bedside, watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life. Her brothers and sisters–she is the middle child of five–have all turned up over the past week to pay their last respects. Each is traumatized in his or her own way, and the bonds that unite them to each other are fragile–as fragile perhaps as the old man’s health.

With her siblings all gone, back to their self-obsessed lives, she is now alone with the faltering wreck of her father’s cancer-ridden body. It is always at times like this when it–the dark and nameless, the impossible, presence that lingers along the fringes of the dark fields beyond the house–comes calling.

As the clock ticks away in the darkness, she can only wait for it to find her, a reunion she both dreads and aches for…

One of the most harrowing reads I’ve come across, The Language of Dying is not only about a father slowly succumbing to cancer but about more than one or even two kinds of hurt people endure during their lives. Less than 200 pages of stillness right in front of Death’s door, of reliving past losses, and witnessing the very fragile ties in between the 5 siblings which will surely crumble and fade in the same way as their father’s life.

The Language of Dying gives a sobering look into how everyone deals with hardships differently, what their coping mechanisms are and how it affects people around them. It’s a crux of human relationships, isn’t it? The way someone expects others to behave doesn’t necessarily fit into the other person’s logical behavioral agenda.

The family still remembers the night decades ago when a mother and a wife walked out on them. A father left to take care of 5 children on his own… That age old pain has now been buried underneath new fresh hardships that come hand in hand with adult life. Some of those hardships are known in between siblings, some of those have never been spoken about… Everyone carries some kind of secrets… The brothers and sisters coming together in their childhood home, as their father lives out his last remaining days, nearly gives reader some hope… That they will pull together, that they will support each other and that they can understand each other… But, family or not, sometimes the physical and mental distances in between siblings has done too much damage to reconcile…

The writing in this book is absolutely beautiful, however morbid it sounds. A difficult read which leaves the questions about life and death hanging in the ether. It seems like it has been nothing but a long string of misery for every character in this book and yet… life goes on. To some of them at least. So, a word of warning here– you will finish the book and most likely feel like your heart and soul are being weighed down as if by all of the world’s hurt. The ending will not give you peace, serenity nor closure… It truly is a book of hurt. A book of hurtful reality. A book of pain and just wanting to be free, in peace. 

There is an interesting element to the novella. Fantasy? Magical realism? During the three breaking points of our main character’s life, a big black beast of a unicorn appears in front of her childhood home. With glowing red eyes and vibrating energy this beast seems to bring something to the woman. Is it closure? Is it death come to announce that another life is taken, or that another piece of her soul is gone? I would like for the ‘beast’ to represent her strength at times she most needed to find something in her… in the end though? I started to think maybe it was madness all along…

My rating: 4 stars… The ending was left a bit too open for me. I’d like to be spoonfed here with whether I was left with madness and lunacy or death upon death? Then again… that ending will keep me thinking about the book for a long, long time…

*I received a copy of this book through Netgalley and Quercus Books in exchange for a review*

Amazon UK ¦ USA


  1. Would you consider the open ending one thatbis meant to encourage your own interpretation? This sounds like such a powerful read. The process we each go through when grieving and hurting is so truly unique and personal. It sounds like the author has done a great job of capturing that. Beautiful review Liz!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks you Danielle! Yes, the ending is definitely left for the reader to interpret… because of the ‘magical beast’ element I translated into symbolism… but symbolism for what? Because in the end… the ‘unspoken’ is being done and our female character.. just… I just can’t wrap my head around it yet… I’m sure I’ll figure out what the beast-link is to her.
      A truly powerful book indeed and very realistic… just soooo depressing! But such is life…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, I know I need to stay away from this book! This sounds like a compelling story but the dark tone is something I must stay away from, even though I’m curious about how the author managed to capture the essence of grief and human nature faced with life’s hardest days. I am sure it is a story that forced you to think, a book that stares at pain right in the eye. Thanks for the wonderful review 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, this was just too real… and scary! The grief and human nature was captured to a T, I think… at the same time it’s hard to know because I haven’t felt any of those dark emotions nor been in any of those painful situations myself but while I read I felt like my heart was near stopping with the emotion… this book definitely has all the pain in it from cancer to drug abuse to rejection to domestic violence… a book of realistic misery really.
      Thank you!


    • Thank you! 🙂
      Yep.. I think… I think you could handle the darkness that is this book… it will give a kick to the feels but it definitely portrays humanity to a T…
      By the way… your Goodreads shelves clean up idea got stuck on me as well.. I’ve scheduled in Xmas day, after dinner, to go over the TBR shelf on Goodreads and just clean it up! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wahhhh this sounds truly amazing. Really seems like it dealt with the concepts of life and death, and all their subtleties with great depth! I also thought that having a quote by Neil Gaiman on its cover is pretty nice promise of a great reading experience! 😛 Fantastic review, Liz!

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      Yeah, it was a mind shattering read, as in- so much pain and problems rolled into a shortish book, but executed very well… I think you might enjoy this read and Gaiman’s compliments help, of course! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hah..Ma ei teagi, miks ma ingl. keeles kirjutasin. 😀

        Sinu blogis oli väga tore ringi vaadata, teen seda kindlasti ka edaspidi. Ma pole küll enamikke raamatuid (veel) lugenud, millest sa kirjutad, aga paljud neist tunduvad huvitavad, seega hoian silma peal. Et see Goodreadsi to-read list ikka kosuks. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • No vot.. ma ei teagi, kas on mingi blogger code siis nyyd, et peaks inglise keeles kirjutama, et k6ik aru saaksid v6i…? Hmm… aga noh… ma piire ei pane… kui soovid inglise keeles kommenteerida, siis me v6ima vabalt seda ka teha 🙂 Pole sellises situatsioonis varem olnud 😀 Good problem to have!

          Jaa… Goodreads on… iga kord seda lehte kylastades lisandub 1 v6i 2 v6i 6 uut raamatut nimekirja mida lugeda! Ma peaks su sealt ka yles otsima! Mis zanri sa muidu ise loed?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Pean mainina, et vahelduseks on siin päris hea eesti keeles kirjutada. Inglise keelt oleks mul vaja harjutada küll, aga eks seda saan siin teha nagunii.

            Ma jõudsin ette ja piilusin su Goodreadsi. Mul on alati hea meel kohata inimest, kellele meeldib ka fantasy, sest see on mu absoluutne lemmik. Lisaks meeldivad mulle väga lasteraamatud (eks need lähevad ka tihti fantaasia alla). Mitte need täiesti pisikestele mõeldud pildiraamatud, vaid see mida kutsutakse vist middle grade (Lindgren, Dahl jms).

            Tahaksin lugeda rohkem erinevaid zanre, et avaldada silmaringi ja mitte olla liiga ühekülgne, aga paratamatult haarab käsi ikka millegi “kindla” järele.

            Tahaks üldse rohkem lugeda, aga see teine hobi, milletõttu mul see blogi siin ka on, nõuab suure osa mu vabast ajast. 🙂


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