Lucy and Todd

Until Further Notice, I Am Alive – Tom Lubbock

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on July 10, 2012 at 6:22 pm

There are short works that are such intense distillations of human experience that once read they can never be forgotten, let alone left out of one’s house – A Sentimental Journey, Hiroshima, A Voyage Around My Room – and now Until Further Notice, I Am Alive.

The art critic Tom Lubbock died of a brain tumour last year. He was 53. This is a curt, passionate description of that experience, his farewell to the world he lived in, to his wife and little boy.

It is a frank book about dying, but it isn’t what you might think. The medical aspects of what had befallen him didn’t interest Lubbock much. He knew what the outcome was going to be, and wanted to get on with writing and living: “The news was death. And it wasn’t going to be maybe good luck and getting through it. It was definitely death…” He found, to his surprise, certain freedoms granted him in the process of leaving the world: “I can’t be required to look more than a few weeks ahead, and now being relieved of it, see what a pressure future-mindedness (albeit coming to nothing mostly) usually exerts.”

He gives us his “three annoying sympathisers”, like characters out of Swift: “1 Those who come only wanting to have their minds put at rest. 2 Those who know someone who had exactly what you’ve got, and she’s absolutely fine now. 3 Those who want you to know they realise just how awful it is for you – and the little one!”

There’s a ghastly, inspired riff on corpses: “A cadaver on stage or screen is often a comic turn. It’s something that’s got to be concealed. It must be lugged about with great difficulty. It has to be temporarily passed off as a living body … it keeps falling into lifelike postures and gestures.” And he is exasperatedly bemused about what he calls “nuts and berries” cure-yourself cancer books. (He quickly tired of the “trendiness” of the idea of accepting death.)

Cancer tales, he wrote, are of two kinds. You die or you get better. But the glioblastoma he was suffering from, though assuredly fatal, wasn’t going to give him an easy story option. Tom Lubbock produced a small masterpiece on suffering; that is, on being alive. It ought to be one of life’s required manuals. This is a great book because it deranges you to read it; it makes you think you’re going to die. And you are.


The Herald, April 1, 2012

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