Every Single Minute by Hugo Hamilton

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Helllllllllo readers another library book review for you today. I have been trying to go to the library more regularly the last few weeks and with a number of trips down to London and Milton Keynes I have had many hours of train time to use to my advantage. Today’s review has been a tough one especially when I found out that this is based on a true story so I’m going to try and write with that in mind but still be objective. Here for you is Every Single Minute by Hugo Hamilton.

 ‘… I have friends and family, I am in this wonderful country, I have money, there is nothing much wrong with me except I am dying.’

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‘Every Single Minute’ is a novel by inspired by the force of honesty – a moving portrait of an Irish writer dying of cancer. Visiting Berlin for the first and last time, she is remembered, in prose of arresting directness, by the book’s narrator. Touring the city, Úna strives still to understand the tragic death of her younger brother. At last, at a performance of the opera ‘Don Carlo’, she realises the true cost of letting memory dictate the course of her life. From the author of ‘The Speckled People’ the uplifting and heartbreaking, ‘Every Single Minute’ is the story of a candid friendship, full of affection and humour, and of reconciliation, hard-won at long last.

So, as the blurb suggests the book follows the trip to Berlin shared by Una and Liam. The two set off for a few days with Una suffering from metastatic cancer, high on Xanax and after refusing chemotherapy wanting to take one last trip. The book follows the two as they find their way sightseeing around the city. Una is constantly re-evaluating the eminence of the ending of her life whilst her and Liam reminisce about the past especially the difficult memories of her parents and also Liam’s life also. The writing has a poetic and tender honesty to it. There are a number of scenes that stick; one where Una is in a field of cowslips and demands that Liam takes off her shoes. She is adamant but he prevails that she will get pneumonia. The juxtaposition between the two and the stages in their lives is wonderful and Liam’s constant evaluation that she is giving him life by her soon passing is a saddening but honest touch. The shared time together is both precarious and thoughtful; the ringing of the church bells, the taste of chocolate, the warming up of Una is bath, it’s very personal. It’s a little bubble of the two.

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But, for me this personal touching tribute jars with the writing and the personalities of the two characters. Hugo writes with poetic style but it lacks a little something. He describes looking after her in minute detail; clipping her toenails, taking her in and out of the taxi, passing her the clear bag that holds all of her things. It feels mundane and tedious. Additionally the two don’t seem to communicate in a way that would make them friends? It sounds terrible but they scrap and argue. She berates him for loving his daughter too much and he argues with her for not forgiving her parents. All the time they are wading through Berlin and it makes you wonder what was Hamilton trying to achieve through this book. Maybe honesty but it’s not coming across too well.

Towards the end there is a sudden and slightly shocking confession from Liam about his own life. Although I cannot comment as to whether it is true, if it is, I think it could have been worked on from the beginning because it could have made the story feel all the more synchronised. Instead it feels like it has been jostled in at the end. The ending also just fades. It doesn’t feel like it ends only that it just peters out. It means the end feels unjustified and lost. It makes me angry because this could have ended so differently and affected me so much more.

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Overall this has been a truly tough book to review because I understand the implication of writing a book of this personal integrity. Maybe the author was trying to truly document the events, and therefore kept it as straight as possible as not to sugar coat. If so it came across a little blunt and harsh to say the least. I enjoyed parts and I found it easy to read, but the personalities I found difficult to stomach and the ending was wishy-washy. A book I am glad to have read, but not one that I think I will go back to.

Leave a comment

  1. July 20, 2015 / 12:17 pm

    It’s all too often that I find myself in the same boat as you- glad to have read the thing, but, at the same time, eager to move on. What does that even mean, “glad,” in

    • July 20, 2015 / 12:19 pm

      this context? Like, proud of oneself for finishing something distasteful? Are some books like lousy meatloaf, but your mum made it, so you gotta eat it? (Also, forgive the double post- cell phones and pub trans)

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