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Right to Die - Hazel McHaffie

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Hazel McHaffie / Paperback / 316 Pages / Book is published 2008-04-01 by Luath Press Ltd

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      08.06.2010 18:54
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      An intriguing delve into the world of terminal illness

      It must be hard enough watching your partner die just once, but for Naomi, Adam's death is just the beginning. Coming across his personal, private diary of his time from diagnosis to subsequent demise, she is forced to relive the awful months during which his body began to betray him and his will to live was replaced with a will to die...on his own terms.

      Adam has Motor Neurone Disease (MND), so his death, though upcoming, is neither sufficiently predictable nor quick. In fact, from starting his diary on the day of his diagnosis to his subsequent passing takes over two years, and that is Adam's largest concern. He knows that his disease is incurable. That his death will be painful. That it will be drawn out over many months during which his quality of life will be lacking both quality and, well, life. That his mind will remain active and alert while his body withers around him. It is not what he wants, but with the law the way it is at present, a dignified, assisted death is not an option. But could it be? And, more importantly, should it be?

      The story is told from two points of view, Adam's as the writer of the diary, and Naomi's as its reader. Adam's character is done well - you can feel his pain, his frustration, his on-going mental and physical battles. Though it does, through necessity, go into slightly more background detail than a true diary might (for the purposes of bringing an outside reader up to speed), it still comes off as a sufficiently authentic replication of what a MND sufferer might reflect on in these circumstances.

      I was, however, a little thrown by the dramatic difference when it came to Naomi's sections. The writing was noticeably less fluid, her character less real, and the style much less readable. I didn't quite understand why this was the case, because both Adam and Naomi are really just McHaffie, wearing different hats for different narratives, but somehow while I enjoyed Adam's chunks immensely, I was constantly gritting my teeth through Naomi's lurid reflections.

      This is real life drama that's a cut above the stories you find in weekly women's magazines and it is hard to fault either the science or the emotions portrayed in the book. McHaffie is a trained nurse with many years experience and draws on this to produce a story that is clearly fact-based-fiction, something that adds credibility and interest. Beyond MND, the most challenging and controversial topic of the book - that of assisted dying - is handled sensitively and the contrasting perspectives of patient and carer were interesting to have side by side. Wherever you stand on the issue, it will give you food for thought and would be an interesting title for a book club discussion, given the timeliness of the particular medical-ethical dilemmas debated.

      Despite the wealth of medical information, this is very definitely a story, not a text book, and you don't need to be in the medical profession to appreciate it - after all, prior to his diagnosis, Adam was a lay person like the rest of us, albeit one then catapulted into a world he never chose to be a part of.

      I persevered despite my objections to the style, because the topic was so unusual and intriguing, but I can't ignore the former and for that it does lose a few stars. It's a shame because I wanted to like this book more, but I couldn't no matter how hard I tried.


      Second hand, e.g. on Amazon, this might be worth a look, but I don't think it's worth its rrp of £12.99

      This review was first available on www.thebookbag.co.uk

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