REVIEW: The Beginner's Goodbye - Anne Tyler

3.5/5


A while back I wrote for my university magazine on Anne Tyler’s A Spool Of Blue Thread and was surprised to find many negative criticisms online comparing this to Tyler’s previous work and claiming she’d taken a down turn. Having just read my second Anne Tyler novel – The Beginner’s Goodbye – I can now claim to disagree with these statements even further. Of course, Tyler is a novelist of so many books and so without reading further into her work I can’t claim to whole-heartedly say that she had gone downhill since her past releases, yet The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012) is definitely not as moving as following, and latest, novel A Spool Of Blue Thread (2015).

In The Beginner’s Goodbye Tyler lives up to her “cosy” writing stereotype, which I absolutely love. As an author she has claimed to write in order to live life through characters, which is exactly how I feel when reading anything she has written. Protagonist Aaron is without a doubt the driving force of the novel and is thoroughly interesting. Right up to the last page I was learning more and more about him – he’s not one to be forgotten in a hurry.

Aaron begins the novel married to Dorothy. Their relationship is both dysfunctional and satisfying until Dorothy dies when a tree collapses onto their home. When Aaron is forced to live without Dorothy he begins to see their marriage for how it really was; the good, the bad, and the ugly. While this can seem a little abrupt at times it follows the grieving process that Aaron experiences. At first he struggles to see Dorothy’s traits that irritated him but as time passes he begins to accept them, without regret but with hindsight.

While The Beginner’s Goodbye is a thoroughly reflective novel, it still has sufficient movement to keep readers interested. The story follows the process of repairing Aaron’s house and I feel like more could have been done about the symbolism between the physical re-structuring and Aaron’s emotional well-being, but at least I’m not complaining that it was too obvious. With lengthy chapters that are too long for just one sitting, Aaron reflects from the time he and Dorothy met to the most simple of encounters and discussions they had. I can see how other readers would have viewed this as ‘slow’ and ‘dull’ but to me the beauty and intricacies of such a relationship had the power to keep me turning pages. In that sense I think Anne Tyler and myself would get along quite well.

As Aaron begins to ‘see’ Dorothy again, as a ghost or vision or what we never discover, he learns from her how to move forward. Here, the novel becomes somewhat cliché. However, Tyler is a master of walking the line between poignant and cheesy and she once more pulls this off.

Albeit, The Beginner’s Goobye is a succinct and simple read. Somehow Tyler can display the most complex of relationships in a fashion that is easy to read. This is a writer that I would put on the curriculum and canon if I had a say – not many authors can do as she does.

Get your copy here and tell me what you thought,

Love, Jess

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