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All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir

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Elizabeth Hay, one of Canada's most beloved novelists has written a poignant, complex, and hugely resonant memoir about the shift she experienced between being her parents' daughter to their guardian and caregiver. As the daughter takes charge, and the writer takes notes, her mother and father are like two legendary icebergs floating south. They melt into the ocean of parti Elizabeth Hay, one of Canada's most beloved novelists has written a poignant, complex, and hugely resonant memoir about the shift she experienced between being her parents' daughter to their guardian and caregiver. As the daughter takes charge, and the writer takes notes, her mother and father are like two legendary icebergs floating south. They melt into the ocean of partial, painful, inconsistent, and funny stories that a family makes over time. Hay's eloquent memoir distills these stories into basic truths about parents and children and their efforts of understanding. With her uncommon sharpness and wit, Elizabeth Hay offers her insights into the peculiarities of her family's dynamics--her parents' marriage, sibling rivalries, miscommunications that spur decades of resentment all matched by true and genuine love and devotion. Her parents are each startling characters in their own right--her mother is a true skinflint who would rather serve up wormy soup (twice) than throw away an ancient packet of "perfectly good" mix; her father is a proud and well-mannered man with a temper that can be explosive. When Icebergs Melt is a startlingly beautiful memoir that addresses the exquisite agony of family, the unstoppable force of dementia, and the inevitability of aging.


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Elizabeth Hay, one of Canada's most beloved novelists has written a poignant, complex, and hugely resonant memoir about the shift she experienced between being her parents' daughter to their guardian and caregiver. As the daughter takes charge, and the writer takes notes, her mother and father are like two legendary icebergs floating south. They melt into the ocean of parti Elizabeth Hay, one of Canada's most beloved novelists has written a poignant, complex, and hugely resonant memoir about the shift she experienced between being her parents' daughter to their guardian and caregiver. As the daughter takes charge, and the writer takes notes, her mother and father are like two legendary icebergs floating south. They melt into the ocean of partial, painful, inconsistent, and funny stories that a family makes over time. Hay's eloquent memoir distills these stories into basic truths about parents and children and their efforts of understanding. With her uncommon sharpness and wit, Elizabeth Hay offers her insights into the peculiarities of her family's dynamics--her parents' marriage, sibling rivalries, miscommunications that spur decades of resentment all matched by true and genuine love and devotion. Her parents are each startling characters in their own right--her mother is a true skinflint who would rather serve up wormy soup (twice) than throw away an ancient packet of "perfectly good" mix; her father is a proud and well-mannered man with a temper that can be explosive. When Icebergs Melt is a startlingly beautiful memoir that addresses the exquisite agony of family, the unstoppable force of dementia, and the inevitability of aging.

30 review for All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Canadian Reader

    “acts of love are never uncomplicated” Acclaimed Canadian novelist, Elizabeth Hay has produced a beautifully written and affecting memoir about her parents’ last years. In 2008 when Hay’s narrative opens, the frail couple are in their late eighties and living in London, Ontario, a mid-sized city in the southwest of the province, some seven hours’ drive from the author’s Ottawa home. Gordon, Elizabeth’s father, had been an ambitious secondary school teacher of history and then a high-school prin “acts of love are never uncomplicated” Acclaimed Canadian novelist, Elizabeth Hay has produced a beautifully written and affecting memoir about her parents’ last years. In 2008 when Hay’s narrative opens, the frail couple are in their late eighties and living in London, Ontario, a mid-sized city in the southwest of the province, some seven hours’ drive from the author’s Ottawa home. Gordon, Elizabeth’s father, had been an ambitious secondary school teacher of history and then a high-school principal. He had worked hard to advance his career, ultimately becoming a professor of education at the local university. A frightening, gloomy figure, volcanic in temperament, he would erupt with fury when disobeyed, once throwing his young son hard enough across the dining room for the boy to require stitches. (He would later feel deeply ashamed by his loss of control, but sadly incapable of apology.) Jean Stevenson Hay, Elizabeth’s mother, was born in the Ottawa Valley in 1919 (the same year as her husband), and had apparently trained as a nurse before marrying and bearing four children—Elizabeth being the third. Jean ultimately turned to art, making adventurous journeys (in her sixties) to Canada’s far north in order to explore and sketch the terrain of Ellesmere Island alongside scientists. (This was a time when grants were available for artists to travel to the Canadian Arctic.) Throughout her married life, Jean worked steadily to counterbalance her husband’s dark energy, attempting to bring light into the home. Having a painter’s studio built just off the side of their house when she was 65 no doubt allowed her the physical space for her creativity to flourish and her psychological health to be preserved. By the end of January 2009, after her mother had undergone two knee surgeries due to a streptococcal lung infection that had spread through the blood, Hay had arranged for Gordon and Jean to live at a retirement home in Ottawa, just a short walk from her house. The move would allow Elizabeth to visit them daily and tend to their needs. Hay documents the physical and cognitive decline of both parents as well as many painful memories from the past. (A particularly sad anecdote concerns Hay’s father’s failure to acknowledge his daughter’s literary achievements. When it came time to winnow down his personal library before vacating the London house, Gordon left behind his daughter’s seven novels, personally inscribed to her parents.) Growing up (and even in adulthood), Hay’s relationship with both parents was fraught. All three of them were touchy, defensive, easily set off. Hay feared and even hated her disapproving and fury-prone father, and she harboured anger towards her mother, who had been so committed to keeping the peace that she did not defend or protect her daughter. Hay is frank about her motivation for taking on the care of her parents as they neared their end: it was due to a kind of competitiveness, a desire to be loved the best of the four children. This memoir makes clear that old age can be terrifying, gruelling, and heartbreaking—not just for those who endure the ravages directly, the elderly themselves, but for the family members who are there for the duration. In their final years and months, Hay’s parents often expressed the wish that it could all just end quickly—with the help of a pill. In spite of all that is so difficult as loved ones’ lives wind down, there can be moments of beauty and love. There can be opportunities to better understand family members and to appreciate the essential vulnerability of all—even those who have frightened us. Hay writes about some of these moments and about how she came to understand just how deeply her parents’ lives had been woven together. Hay’s father died in 2011; her mother in 2012. A small photograph of the two together provides a touching and humble conclusion to an interesting and moving narrative.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    Emotionally devastating. Elizabeth Hay writes with unflinching honesty and lyrical beauty. This book feels like a gift.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Laurie • The Baking Bookworm

    3.5 STARS - This was the first time I had read a book by Canadian author Elizabeth Hay. In All Things Consoled, she writes about her complicated relationship with her parents growing up as well as the changing dynamic between herself and her parents as they aged. Hay's writing is frank, especially when she discusses her turbulent childhood and the complicated relationship she had with her parents. Through the ups and downs, her love for her parents is the focus of the book and there are some emo 3.5 STARS - This was the first time I had read a book by Canadian author Elizabeth Hay. In All Things Consoled, she writes about her complicated relationship with her parents growing up as well as the changing dynamic between herself and her parents as they aged. Hay's writing is frank, especially when she discusses her turbulent childhood and the complicated relationship she had with her parents. Through the ups and downs, her love for her parents is the focus of the book and there are some emotional scenes. There were some issues which were hard to read, and others were emotional so readers who can relate to dealing with aging parents may want to keep the Kleenex handy. I couldn't relate as much to Hay's experiences and that may have influenced my feelings for the book. The vast majority of reviewers have raved about this book and while I feel odd rating someone's life experiences, I didn't feel as connected to the book as I had hoped. Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the publisher for my complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Friederike Knabe

    Very moving, thought provoking, gentle, beautifully written. A full review is in process.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lori Bamber

    What a remarkable book! Elizabeth Hay is a brilliant, beautiful, effective writer. Here she takes on the most difficult subject of all: the adult child and her parents in decline. Agonizing. So honest it is sometimes off-putting, freeing us all from the constraints imposed by presenting only our polite and polished selves, the one that is too sweet to be really human. If I was a Pulitzer judge, this would get my vote. It has the potential to change the way we see families and ourselves. And whil What a remarkable book! Elizabeth Hay is a brilliant, beautiful, effective writer. Here she takes on the most difficult subject of all: the adult child and her parents in decline. Agonizing. So honest it is sometimes off-putting, freeing us all from the constraints imposed by presenting only our polite and polished selves, the one that is too sweet to be really human. If I was a Pulitzer judge, this would get my vote. It has the potential to change the way we see families and ourselves. And while it can be harsh to read, the end result is kind: we are all broken, stumbling toward happiness, loving as much as we can in our broken way.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne Bank

    I heard on an interview and knew I had to read this- currently going through a similar situation of caregiving - so beautifully written - raw and honest

  7. 5 out of 5

    Marti

    An amazing memoir by a daughter about her parents. So moving and powerful. It seemed sometimes as though she was observing my experiences at the end of my mother's life, or my observing hers. What an extraordinary voyage, although sometimes difficult, this book has taken me on. Thank you.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Although written in a consistently depressed tone, All Things Consoled captures the inevitably of both aging and retrospection upon a parent's decline in health. Difficult to read at times because there is really no reprieve to the sadness (the book is just one big denouement), but tingle-inducing by the end. A memoir through-and-through, it's not a guide to grief. But it may just help someone who needs to both escape and confront their own reality [of dealing with aging parents] for just a litt Although written in a consistently depressed tone, All Things Consoled captures the inevitably of both aging and retrospection upon a parent's decline in health. Difficult to read at times because there is really no reprieve to the sadness (the book is just one big denouement), but tingle-inducing by the end. A memoir through-and-through, it's not a guide to grief. But it may just help someone who needs to both escape and confront their own reality [of dealing with aging parents] for just a little while.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Colette Connors

    Unbelievably beautiful and exquisitely sad.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    An uncomfortable read, intense and unsettling.

  11. 4 out of 5

    M.A.

    Having just lost my dad this year, Hay's book was both comforting and informative about the death of a parent. Certain questions about the whole process were answered.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stefania Vani

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kim Sewall

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ro

  15. 4 out of 5

    Debra

  16. 4 out of 5

    Scoutaccount

  17. 5 out of 5

    Melody

  18. 4 out of 5

    Helen Badder

  19. 5 out of 5

    Meg

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rita Dornn

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  23. 4 out of 5

    Iris

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Wilson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gail

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shirley

  27. 5 out of 5

    Curtis Samuel

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hilda

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jan Fleming

  30. 4 out of 5

    JoAnne

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