Book: From Dust to Dust and a Lifetime in Between
Author: Katherine Anne Lee
Available: Monday 24th February
If you enjoy this book you might like: One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
Summary: Devoted grandmother Mollie Cooke always dreamed of writing her own eventful life story, but sadly dementia robbed her of the opportunity. Mollie’s granddaughter Katherine has finally published her biography, two years after Mollie’s death at the age of 96. Discover the momentous events in Mollie’s life from her childhood in the countryside, to the tragic losses in her life, and her final struggle with dementia.
Picking up Katherine Anne Lee’s novel, I was a little apprehensive – I wasn’t sure whether it would be easy to connect with someone else’s grandmother in a book which was essentially a tribute. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself growing increasingly attached to Mollie, the protagonist, as she navigated her way through the highs and lows of life. By the time I finished the novel, it felt as if I had lost a family member of my own.
Mollie’s story is beautiful, but sad. She experiences tragic losses in her life, notably of people who are extremely important to her (I won’t say who as I don’t want to spoil it for you), and the way Katherine writes allows you to experience Mollie’s devastation right alongside her.
The novel also deals with hard-hitting themes such as war, however it doesn’t delve too deeply into what is happening outside of Mollie’s life. When World War II erupted, she was a young woman old enough to understand what was happening around her. The focus remains on the small rural town in which she lives, making it easier to get drawn into her story as you experience the devastation on a more personal level.
Cancer is another emotionally-difficult theme in the book, but I found Katherine’s representation of it particularly interesting. Imagining it as creatures that enter Mollie’s dreams and taunt her as it attacks her loved ones, it really emphasised the way Mollie felt it was an invisible monster, and constantly preyed on her mind.
Moving away from the sadder themes, I really enjoyed the way love was presented in the book. When Mollie meets her first husband Jack, it’s an all-consuming, romantic love, full of dreamy dates and love letters. When Mollie meets her second husband Billy, it’s a quiet, unassuming love: she slowly falls for him and when the two eventually wed, she remarks how safe she feels in his arms.
At 96-year-olds, Mollie’s journey through life is epic, but what I really loved about the book is the way Katherine makes you feel that time is passing by too quickly, so you really feel for Mollie both through the ups and downs. It’s what makes the dementia passages so moving: you experience everything with Mollie and then watch her final struggle as she tries to remember it all. It can be frustrating as a reader, because you know the answers and want to help her.
The novel is beautifully written, and Mollie’s story is definitely worth a read.