Published By: Faber and Faber
Released On: 20/01/2022
It is October 1966 and William Lavery is having the night of his life at his first black-tie do. But, as the evening unfolds, news hits of a landslide at a coal mine. It has buried a school: Aberfan.
William decides he must act, so he stands and volunteers to attend. It will be his first job as an embalmer, and it will be one he never forgets.
His work that night will force him to think about the little boy he was, and the losses he has worked so hard to forget. But compassion can have surprising consequences, because – as William discovers – giving so much to others can sometimes help us heal ourselves.
**Contains minor spoilers**
I won this book in a competition and, if I’m honest, I didn’t actually know what it was about. But for some reason, I wasn’t expecting such a hard-hitting story. The first section documenting the aftermath of the Aberfan disaster is heartrenching. I found it really hard to read – not because of the writing, but because how brutal the situation sounded. But as bizarre as it may seem, it was also written so beautifully. You can feel the respect Jo has for the event and her love seeps through every word. We all think of the children and adults directly affected by the disaster, but we forget about those others whose lives were turned upside down by it – the police, the rescuers, and he’s, the funeral directors, undertakers, and embalmers. Okay, so it may be their job, but they would never have expected a disaster of such proportions, and through this book, Jo gives them their moment of remembrance.
It is such a unique plot – a chorister who becomes an embalmer, but it seems like such a natural choice you wonder why no one else has picked up this story. Whilst reading it I did wonder how Jo came to write about it, but she explains more in the acknowledgements, which adds even more heart to the story.
There is such an array of emotions throughout this book, it’s really rather quite beautiful. Each character is wonderfully written and perfectly complement William; whether they’re the “good guys” or the “bad guys”, you enjoy reading about them.
There are some tough topics touched upon – grief, child death, bullying, sexuality, miscarriage, PTSD – and yet it doesn’t feel over the top. It actually seems natural that one person could be experiencing all of this, and it turns your thoughts inwards to yourself.
It doesn’t particularly warrant a sequel, but I wish I could stay a part of William’s story a bit longer. We may only be a month into the year, but this is already a prime contender for my favourite book of 2022.