The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I first encountered Anne Tyler during a west week on the Isles of Scilly, and so the first thing I must say is hooray for holiday cottages with well stocked bookshelves. Which book it was that I read first I really don’t remember, but I do remember that I loved it, and that I went on to read pretty much everything that she wrote.

I love the way that she gently illuminates ordinary lives, quietly showing that everyone has their own story. Her last few books haven’t quite lived up to my expectations, but I am pleased to be able to say that The Beginner’s Goodbye has. It’s not quite her best, but it is her best in quite a while.

It tells the story of Aaron Woolcott, a middle-aged man who had become a widower when his wife, Dorothy, was killed by a tree that fell on their porch. A horribly unlucky, tragic accident.

They had been an odd couple. Both outsiders. He was a book editor with a deformed leg who’d had to struggle to break free of a very protective family. And she was a surgeon, whose life centred on her work. Not an obvious couple, but their relationship so clearly worked for both of them.

Aaron tried to come to terms with what had happen, to mend his home and his life, and diplomatically fending off friends, colleagues and neighbours, who offered more support than he really wanted.

Anne Tyler draws Aaron’s past and present, his relationship with Dorothy, quite beautifully. And she handles difficult subject matter with grace and sensitivity.

Aaron’s work – developing beginners’ guides for dealing with every life event that could possibly merit one – balances his story beautifully and provides a lovely touch of gentle humour. And his inexplicable sightings of his late wife made me catch my breath.

This is a very quiet little book. Not too much happens, but lives are illuminated and lives change.

It wasn’t quite perfect – just a little slight in a few places, just a little forced in others – but it came pretty close.

15 responses

  1. I used to read her books as they came out, but I’ve missed the last two or three. This one sounds a little different – and intriguing.

    • I’ve found the last few of her books disappointing, so you might have stopped at just the right time. This is a little different and though it isn’t quite back to her best I’m glad I read it.

  2. I was intrigued by the back cover that talked it up as a ghost story, when really it’s about grief and coming to terms with loss, regret etc and the resilience of human nature to move on and grow. I enjoyed it too.

  3. I just love books where nothing really has to happen, just ordinary people living their lives. I’ve read Digging to America and The Amateur Marriage by Tyler. I wasn’t blown away by them, but I still want to read more by Tyler.

  4. I agree with what you’ve said. Pretty good – it is Tyler after all – but not her greatest. When I saw her speak at the Oxford Lit Festival she implied that this may be her last published novel which is worrying me because I’ve almost read her whole back catalogue now!

    • How wonderful to hear her speak, but sad that this may be her last novel. Though I do think her books would stand up well to a second reading.

  5. This one sounds lovely and the way you described her writing about the ordinary in our lives is one of the reasons I’m drawn to her writing. I have this one on my Kindle and will be getting to it within the next few months.

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