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Monday, 15 July 2019
BOOK REVIEW: TWELVE THOUSAND DAYS BY EILIS NI DHUIBHNE
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Twelve Thousand Days A Memoir of Love and Loss by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne The Blackstaff Press
Éilís Ní Dhuibhne's candid and moving memoir tells the story of her thirty-year relationship with the love of her life, internationally renowned folklorist Bo Almqvist, capturing brilliantly the compromises and adjustments and phases of their relationship.
Twelve Thousand Days is a remarkable story about love, grief and time, shot through with wry and sharp observations on Irish life, culture and morality.
One of a number of events I attended during the 2019 Belfast Book Festival featured Éilís Ní Dhuibhne talking about her memoir, Twelve Thousand Days, the approximate amount of time she knew Bo Almqvist. It was a mesmerising conversation with Bernie McGill, emphasising the depth and strength of a loving relationship from its exciting beginning through to some desperate, frustrating and heartbreaking times in Bo's final years of illness exasperated by health service incompetence.
But love shines through the book, a love of stories, of travel, of two people: 'I was in love, in love with Bo. I had been in love with him for a long time, in a way, ever since I had read in his eyes that his heart was broken. And there were other reasons. His good looks. His Swedishness. His enthusiasm, brilliance, learning. His fearless and confidence and wit.'
There are other passages in the book of great warmth and happy times with family and friends, and of many irritations and red anger at the way her husband was treated, or rather not treated in hospital. 'Bo suffered and untimely, painful, and unnecessary death. It is difficult for me not to think of the Irish public health service - sloppy, careless, and ageist - as a murder machine.'
The desperately sad ending to the memoir - the feeling of guilt: 'Bo stepped on a weak spot in the health service. The thin ice gave way. He was pulled to the bottom, and I could not save him' - is tempered in a way by the eventual acceptance that grief needs to be recognised and managed on a road to coping with the loss and allowing life to go on. It is handled sensitively and emotionally in the wonderfully descriptive, poetic and always honest writing.
There is much joy here and much sorrow too. As a reader accompanying Éilís Ní Dhuibhne on her journey, it has been easy to smile along with the good times and impossible not to shed a tear on the other path.
I recommend her book highly, and I will treasure my signed copy.