by Miriam Toews
I was recommended this story during my book spa at Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath. I couldn’t resist the snappy, witty writing, and was intrigued by another female author who has a few award-winning books under her belt. All My Puny Sorrows is named after a line in a Samuel Coleridge poem, and has received so much praise for its combination of bittersweet humour and a tragic tale of loss. The story of two sisters – Elf and Yoli – explores the idea that sometimes in order to help somebody you love so much, you have to let them go.
Elf is an international pianist with a successful career behind her, and yet another global tour ahead. She has everything Yoli doesn’t – a happy relationship, a job she loves, a beautiful home and all the adoration she could wish for. The only trouble is that Elf wants to die. After numerous attempts on her life, she finds herself in hospital, and Yoli is at her side trying to convince her to find a way to stay alive.
The story is told from Yoli’s perspective and as such is quite stream of conscious-like. It flits between memories of the sisters’ childhood, and parallel storylines about family members and friends. This adds a certain humility and humour to the writing, and it’s obvious that Toews is drawing on her own experiences to write with such insight. Yoli is desperate to help her older sister get better, but Elf’s depression is all-consuming. After much convincing, Yoli agrees to look into helping Elf end her life, as one would help a family member with a terminal illness end the pain.
The story is touching and funny, honest and terrifying. It’s wise and insightful, and explores a point of view that’s difficult to imagine. I thoroughly enjoyed the style of writing, which rolled along like the thoughts in Yoli’s head. The poetic, rhythmic lines lent a lovely flow and honesty to the story. A highly recommended read, but be prepared to cry!