This is the heart rending tale of a young girl Iris and her grandmother and mental health across the fading of the year in Brighton.
A heartbreaking yet loving study in dementia and it’s vagaries and capricious elements whilst also exploring sadness and resentment in young Iris too regarding the changes in her family this book may be emotionally challenging for some children (and adult readers too) but eye opening empathy for others.
For me this book has been a mirror, a window and a door in its exploration of Iris’ feelings towards her grandmother’s decline of memory.
Iris is living temporarily with her grandmother Mimi, this is supposedly because her room is caked in mould and her father has little time to fix it. But underneath this is the uncomfortable truth that Iris isn’t happy and feels like she doesn’t belong since her parents had her 2 year old twin siblings who are whirlwinds of destruction and black holes of attention that cut short conversations, even visits as her tired parents whisk them home at first wail, smudge or tumble.
But things aren’t right at Mimi’s either, she is hiding it but it becomes clear she is losing her memory even though some hold strong, especially the love for a tiny girl called Coral who disappeared over 70 years ago in a terrible accident.
Can Iris keep things together when it feels like everything is falling apart? And will finding the truth unlock Mimi’s memory?
I don’t answer. It’s one of those situations where you think is it worth saying this thing or will it just make life more complicated.
Ok I’ll be honest, there was a point where I wasn’t sure if I was going to ‘make it’ through this book (and mum if you’re reading you may not make it through the next few paragraphs- sorry). This is not because I disliked it, not by any means!
No, I was not sure if I would make it emotionally through the book because just like Iris is discovering with Mimi it became clear that my beloved grandpa had some kind of dementia before he died when I was around the same age as Iris.
Reading Iris’ story was like a sledgehammer to the emotions and memories at times. I felt how she did at times, it is a powerful and very real exploration of watching a family member losing themselves like an old television set wobbling in and out of signal.
Like Iris feels a panicky yet adamant frisson when she realises her grandmother regularly confuses her for Rena; I resonated with that, its like a creeping chill when you realise something isn’t right and you want to stuff it back down.
I don’t understand what happened but I hate that Mason saw it and now he’s giving me sad eyes.
Like Iris is confused as to why Mimi can develop photographs with no problem in the bathroom yet cannot remember to put eggs in cakes I knew something wasn’t right when my grandpa couldn’t find my brother’s name but could recite his own army number from more than 50 years before as if demonstrating that retained knowledge negated the terrifying truth in front of us all.
But like Mimi has with Iris, my grandfather had moments of clarity, and then he had moments of confusion, and then he had moments where it felt like he was desperately trying to communicate something before he lost the words. I felt all those again through Iris’ tale. And the child-me had been scared, sad, confused, angry and frustrated up and down the spectrum at once like Iris is in the book, where you cling to the good clarity moments in the hope they are ‘getting better’ because you are too young to know that doesn’t really happen.
She does a little dance and so do I. I’m so happy… she’s not like Mason’s Grandad at all. She’s absolutely fine.
However, this was also a window for me. The lonely duality of Iris and Mimi through this tale is something that I didn’t experience as my family were very close knit and despite significant denial or attempts to over explain, my grandfather was never ‘on his own’ like Mimi. Mimi until Iris’ arrival lives alone and has largely masked her memory loss, she is a intensely intelligent woman and has coping mechanisms that Iris has passed off as idiosyncrasies or in her increasing alarm eccentricities. Her daughter Rena is too frazzled with the reality of a full time demanding job as a hospital doctor as well as being a mum to 2 year old twins to notice what’s going on, especially as she barely notices the sadness in her own daughter.
Iris’ Feelings of abandonment by her parents in favour of the never ending demands and tantrums of her continuously favoured twin siblings have long moved from resentment into a depressive sense of isolation and lack of self worth. She feels like she doesn’t fit in her own family, her friends have moved away and she’s frightened of letting anyone in, perhaps because they may tire of her too, or worse, they may validate her negative feelings about herself. This is compounded by the fact her parents Take MONTHS to do a job that could have been done & dusted in a week and they barely see Iris on flying visits before one of the twins makes a noise or touches something and they whisk them away.
Dad says the house is falling down from the outside but I think it’s falling down from the inside too. He blames the weather but I blame the people inside.
Iris’ sense of depressed abandonment is palpable for she is like Mimi, others are too busy to notice how sad or worried she is until Mason next door turns up and his bluntness into both their lives and eccentricities is uncomfortable for Iris’s little cocoon of protection.
It is this duality of isolation this bond between Mimi and Iris is truly explored as their respective states of mind have been allowed to develop for too long unchecked.
In my mind I’m the calm one scooping up the useless cake but when it’s all sorted out Dad tells me I was screaming louder than anyone
But it’s also a door by which healing can be found, for me, SE Durrant has Nailed the complexity of emotions a child can feel watching someone they love slowly come undone. For me reading it all these years later, it actually feels a weight off my shoulders to have that rollercoaster of emotions explored and validated saying that is how children react, as we are often never crueller to anyone more so than ourselves.
The strong sense I have for Talking to The Moon is that I KNOW this book could help someone coming through or out the other side of this, to talk about it and hopefully not to hold in guilt about it across decades.
Whilst an emotional read, it is also very sweet and with continuous moments of tenderness throughout which lifts this from a tearjerker to a heartwarming yet bittersweet story of love and understanding.
Talking to the Moon by SE Durrant is published by Nosy Crow
thank you so much for my copy 💜💜