The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin


This is one of the Richard and Judy Book Club picks for Spring 2015 so is getting quite a lot of publicity at the moment. I actually read it some time ago and it is a novel that has stayed with me ever since; it will definitely be one of my top reads for 2015 – and we’re only in March people! If you are one of those readers put off by the hype, make an exception for this. Huge thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy.

What the blurb says:

Here is a truth that can’t be escaped: for Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes, life is coming to an end . . .
Rabbit Hayes loves her life, ordinary as it is, and the extraordinary people in it.

She loves her spirited daughter, Juliet; her colourful, unruly family; the only man in her big heart, Johnny Faye.

But it turns out the world has other plans for Rabbit, and she’s OK with that. Because she has plans for the world too, and only a handful of days left to make them happen.

Here is a truth that won’t be forgotten: this is a story about laughing through life’s surprises and finding the joy in every moment.

So, now you realise you’ll probably need some tissues at the ready. And if that didn’t give you the necessary clues, the opening line of the novel surely will: ‘Today I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I should be terrified but instead I’m strangely elated’.

What that opening line also hints at however, is that this is no dark and drearily depressing story. In fact that couldn’t be further from the truth. I laughed out loud at parts of this novel. And then promptly felt slightly inappropriate for doing so – which I think is part of the point. People react very unexpectedly to tragedy after all. Anna McPartlin thoroughly explores these varying reactions and how tragedy changes the family dynamic in pretty spectacular ways: ‘Although Grace was forty-six and her brother forty-four, they were reduced to helpless children standing at the end of their little sister’s bed… desperately willing their mammy to make everything all right’.

The sense of utter helplessness perhaps comes through most strongly in the character of Rabbit’s dad: ‘Jack Hayes adored his children and would willingly have sacrificed himself to save each and every one of them’. And ‘He knew it was unreasonable to blame Molly for Rabbit’s condition, but he couldn’t help himself. He relied on her to sort things out… She was a shit-kicker, his missus…’

But, the most heart-breaking moments for me were seen through the eyes (or in the head) of Molly, the seemingly indomitable Irish mammy: ‘Molly didn’t want to wake her because as soon as she did their terrible short future would become the present’. Gulp. I just adored her, with her fierceness and gentleness all rolled up together: ‘She’s not sleeping, eating or drinking but she’s insisting everyone else does’. No mother could help but see herself in Molly’s shoes: ‘She wanted to scream and shout and rage at the world. She wanted to do some damage, overturn a car, set a church on fire and unleash hell’.

Actually, maybe the most heart-breaking moments came through Juliet’s story – Rabbit’s young daughter. Hmmm. It’s a close –run thing. The reader feels Rabbit’s sadness at having to leave her behind so very deeply: ‘… when Rabbit was at her most uncomfortable, Juliet was the only one who knew where to place that extra pillow…’.

Not only is the story told from multiple viewpoints – a device I love, but in addition to the ‘current’ storyline, we are given plenty of flashbacks to Rabbit’s younger life. And boy is it funny! Remember your first period, girls? ‘She took her pants down to reveal something akin to a murder scene’.

I can honestly say that I have never before read a novel with such an amazingly perfect blend of tears and humour. In the About the Author section we learn that Anna McPartlin ‘describes herself as a slave to the joke and finds humour and humanity in even the darkest situation’ which explains a lot. It works. Completely. For goodness sake read it.

And if I’ve managed to interest you sufficiently – YAY! Get it on kindle here:The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

Once you have read the book, or even if you need some more convincing, I would strongly recommend you listen to Anna McPartlin’s discussion of the book with Richard and Judy. It’s FREE and you can get it here.

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