Attempting to describe Chloe Hooper’s luminous book Bedtime Story (Scribner, Simon and Schuster 2022) is like the old tale of five different blind men each touching a small part of an elephant and each depicting the creature in an entirely different way. If I told you this was a fairy tale about heroes and journeys and magical quests, you would have one idea. If I told you it was a non-fiction story about a mother coming to terms with her partner’s poor cancer prognosis, you would think it a completely different story.
I could tell you it is about monsters in the dark and the stories we tell our children to help them cope. Or I could say this is a story about illness and terror and uncertainty, and about how we explain to our very young children that life is finite, that the people we love will not be there forever, that pain and fatigue and suffering are only a hair’s breadth away from love and joy and completeness.
This is a handbook for those grieving. An escape for those struggling. It’s a story of compassion and tenderness. A book about children’s vulnerability cohabitating with their resilience.
This is a book of poetry – beautiful, languid sentences that sing. The pages include illustrations – dark configurations of clouds and storms, birds and trees, mountains and stars and the unknown, murky blackness of malevolent fog.
It is a memoir. It is a meditation on love and loss. It is a personal journey. It is a love letter to the author’s children, and to her partner. It is a book that attempts to make sense of the incomprehensible, and to accept with grace that which cannot be changed. It is a powerful, illuminating tale full of honesty and wisdom, humour and peace.
The book includes medical information and data and prognoses and treatment plans and side effects and ‘chances’ and deterioration and recovery and all that is overwhelming about chronic or terminal illness.
This book is a compendium of all the bedtime stories and fairy tales from all over the world that have ever been told – Hooper has researched authors and stories with a forensic and academic attention to detail.
This is a tale of courage, strength, solace, determination and wonder.
Just as in life, I cannot tell you the ending. You must read that for yourself.