My Short Review Of
Reading by Moonlight: how books saved a life
A memoir by Brenda Walker, published by Hamish Hamilton
When a woman goes into hospital for cancer surgery, she packs necessities, and usually something that is dear to her. Brenda Walker has spent a lifetime reading, and her treasured object was a book. Throughout the five stages of the treatment – surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction and survival – she is never without reading matter. In her case the books are mostly classics such as the works of Dickens, Dante, Tolstoy, Patrick White. They speak to her, sustain and console her, bring light in the terrible darkness, and give shape and meaning to the experiences she must undergo.
The books occupy a vital space in her life alongside the spaces necessarily occupied by professionals, family members and dear kind friends. The writer says that if she had to nominate ‘the single person” she was staying alive for it would be her son. And she also expresses her profound love for and gratitude towards her mother who at least five times made the journey from New South Wales to Western Australia to look after her.
This memoir is very moving and also instructive, frankly guiding readers through the terrors of disease and treatment, and fear of dying, while exploring with them the joys of immersion in the gift of great literature.
This book, while facing dark truths and examining deep loneliness, is luminous with a quiet joy. It tells how stories hold the promise of more stories to come, and of another dawn. It stands beside Joan Didion’s memoir about the death of her husband, “The Year of Magical Thinking” and also Susan Sontag’s “Illness as Metaphor” as one of those books you will take to your heart, and will not easily forget.