Cory is a friend of mine but the advertising for this event was the first I knew about her impending death. At first I glanced at it and laughed, thinking it was a publicity stunt. I hadn’t seen her in a long while, but thought she was happily writing in her cottage in Japan. Cory herself said that when she saw the publicity she thought, “How sad,” not realising it was her. But she is. She really is. Dying.
Death is staring her in the face and she’s had the courage to stare right back and write about it. Because, as she says, “I’m a writer. What else was I going to do?” And that is why I love her and why this book is filled with grace and greatness.
The launch was one of the stranger events of my life, half-launch half-living wake, with Cory skyped in from her lounge room, joking that she was speaking to us from the afterlife and that the technology wasn’t so crash hot up there. It’s this sense of humour that infuses a book that could be full of a dark weight, and makes it a joy. A gift to us all. I haven’t even finished it yet and already I’ve marked several passages I want to write out and stick on my wall. Yes, that’s how good it is!
I knew Cory was a wonderful prose stylist before this (and that is my highest praise of any writer), having read her first novel, the Commonwealth Prize winning, Me and Mr Booker. I somehow missed out on her second My Beautiful Enemy which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, but it’s just shoved all the other books off my to read pile.
So there was Cory grinning at us from her lounge room, looking very much like she was dying, but happy – and the crowd of us at Avid Reader, torn between tears and laughter. Brave presenters included her publishers at Text who have already sold the book overseas, Krissy Kneen who called Cory her literary idol and struggled to hold back tears, as did Benjamin Law whose eyes glistened all through his speech about his old friend, thanking her for the gift of this beautiful book that lets us know we are not alone. Kris Olsson spoke about how angry she felt knowing that Cory was dying, so young, only just sixty. How she was angry at the birds, the trees, the sky, the air. But how grateful she was too, for Cory’s writing and her courage in creating this book.
Then the wonderful Fiona Stager of Avid Reader said a few words from her heart, that, had you not already been weeping, would have unstoppered the toughest old cork. We laughed and we cried and celebrated Cory’s writing. A woman in the audience spoke about grief, about not wanting to do stiff upper lip anymore, that we should have all been freer with our tears. And I agree with her, mostly.
Except Cory’s not dead yet. She’s alive and vibrant and fiercely intelligent and funny and last night was a celebration of her life’s work as a writer. I wasn’t going to weep about that. Not then. Only this morning, when I realised her voice is going to be lost to the world.
Don’t be afraid of this book, it’s as funny as it is sad, and is filled with wisdom and love and beautiful, beautiful writing like this.
“When you’re dying, even your unhappiest memories can induce a sort of fondness, as if delight is not confined to the good times, but is woven through your days like a skein of gold thread.”
I couldn’t recommend a book any more highly. Buy a copy for everyone you know.