An Exclusive Love

An Exclusive Love

Johanna Andorjan
Text Publishing $27.95

Imagine your paternal grandparents committing suicide together on the same day. Then imagine yourself trying to reconstruct the details of that day; conjuring all the routines and preparations before their final moment in bed — your grandmother reaching out to hold the hand of your grandfather as they both slip into sleep then death.

Imagine putting this thought into your grandmother’s head during her final few hours: “For the first time she regrets believing in nothing but herself. How much easier it must be for people who have a God, she thinks. Those weak but lucky characters can indulge in the superstition that death is not the end of everything.”

Readers might have different views about the ethics of a healthy woman and her terminally ill and older husband taking their lives together. While ethics is not really the focus of An Exclusive Love, Andorjan’s questions do reveal some of the complexity of life and death decisions and how such decisions may hinge on what a person has suffered.

My niggles about this very striking book remain hard to quantify: Do they come from the fact that Andorjan inserts herself so centrally into the story? That the memoir is beautifully written but has a slightly chilled quality? Is it that, despite this memoir’s exploration, I still can’t fully understand the love it tries to illuminate?

It’s a love that grew up between two people who suffered greatly in their lifetimes and who, as a result, drew tight boundaries around what they would and wouldn’t do.

It’s a love finalised in two post-it notes.

One stuck at eye level on a door said, “Please do not try to revive us.”

The other was also brief: “We have lived together, we are dying together. We have loved you very much. Mami.”

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

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