I recently read the Last Days of Rabbit Hayes so I thought this would be a good opportunity to have a go at writing up a short book discussion. This has a handy Richard and Judy book discussion guide at the back of the book so I’ve used that to structure the discussion.
The book is based around Rabbit who is a single mother in her 40s dying of cancer. She has a very close family around her and the story focuses on each of her family members and how they are dealing with her death. There is also a flash back element to the story with Rabbit remembering her life as a child and how she fell in love with Johnny, the lead signer of her brother’s band, who was also battling a terrible illness.
It is clear from the start of the novel what the final outcome for Rabbit will be. Do you find that difficult or does it mean that you can enjoy the novel without worrying about the ending?
I found that this helped to appreciate the story rather than look toward the ending. The fact that we knew that Rabbit would pass away at the end gave the book a real sadness that was hard to shake. We knew that there was no hope for her and it made it quite a difficult read. However, it also meant that you were able to come to terms with her death throughout the book as though you were a member of the family and sharing their feelings.
The one thing that was hardest to read was the fact that Rabbit’s daughter hadn’t yet accepted, or even been told by her family, that there was no hope for her mother. Having to go through her discovering that she will definitely lose her mother was tough, but it helped to know that her family were there to love, support and look after her.
The novel is all about the family – discuss the relationships between family members and with Rabbit.
Everyone in the family appeared the have a close relationship with Rabbit; sitting by her bedside trying to cheer her up, helping her with decisions about her daughter and reminiscing with her about happier days. The relationships outside of Rabbit’s hospice room were focussed on the other family members. We had her mother Molly and father Jack who are a force to be reckoned with, her brother Davey who is a bit of an outsider, choosing to move away from his Dublin family to tour America with a country singer. Then we have Rabbit’s sister Grace who has four sons, who I think were the most interesting of the lot. And then of course there is Juliet, Rabbit’s twelve-year-old daughter.
The relationships I found the most interesting, although probably had the least focus, were those between Juliet and her four cousins. The boys didn’t know how to behave around Juliet, because unlike her, they knew that her mother was going to die. They clearly wanted to be there to support her, but didn’t quite know how. The oldest brother was more comfortable around her, whereas the younger ones were more wary. In the end it turned out that they were the ones to break the news to her that her mother wasn’t going to survive, and I think that, although it was said in error, it was best coming from her peers, and they were then able to comfort her without any boundaries.
Anna McPartlin balances humour with sadness in the novel. How did she achieve one without losing the other?
I think that she did a really good job of this. Whenever the story started to get a little too sad (which happened in pretty much every chapter) McPartlin managed to add some lightness to it through the characters of the family members. The mixture of light and dark worked well and for me it kept me reading on when I was finding it a bit too much to take. The devastation of Rabbit’s impending death was echoed by her memories of the illness suffered by the love of her life, Johnny. At times I felt that this was just a bit too much sadness and it was quite a hard read, but all of the characters had a humorous side to them which was definitely needed to pull to the book out of being a sadness overload.
Talk about the ending of the novel – how did it make you feel?
Even though we always knew that Rabbit was going to die, I still felt absolutely devastated when it actually happened. I tried to imagine myself in hers and her family’s situation and what it must be like to know that soon you or your loved one will no longer exist in the world. Although I have to say that as well as sadness I also in a way felt relieved, relieved for her family that they could mourn her and begin to pick up the pieces. Towards the end it got to the point where you just wanted it to happen so that everyone could move on and start their lives without Rabbit.
What I really liked about the novel is that it ended with her death and that was that. It stayed true to documenting that last days of her life and didn’t go any further, leaving us to imagine how the family coped and what would come of them in the future.
I haven’t spoken much about Rabbit’s memories of Johnny. We learn that Johnny has MS and as Rabbit’s last days play out, we also learn about Johnny’s last years. The ending implies that they come together in death which, although gut wrenchingly sad, helps you to believe that Rabbit is finally at peace with the love of her life.
Overall it was a lovely book, but for just a bit too sad for me!