She said life was a discovery and that was why you didn’t need to mind about growing old, because the older you got the farther you went down the road of life and the more you found out. She thought that after death you went on learning…

From They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple (British novelist 1893-1966)


Here is another wonderful quotation from the great Dorothy Whipple. Discovering the fiction of this superb writer has been one of the highlights of my year so far, and I recommend the quietly elegant Persephone editions wholeheartedly.

They Were Sisters is an extraordinary novel about the relationship between three sisters as unlike each other as it is possible to be. Only one of them makes a success of her life…but I won’t give the plot away. Whipple’s insights into family relationships are extraordinarily perceptive, and in this novel she has also created one of the arch-villains of literature. Any man who is cruel to his children and to a dog…. But I’ll leave it there.

I marked this passage as it expresses just how I am feeling at the moment. For the last six months I have been quite myself – and I trace this back to the moment my little dog Bonnie died on November 4th. All these feelings will be explored in my forthcoming memoir, ‘Goodbye Pet and See You In Heaven’ (to be published by The Robson Press in the Autumn) but for the moment all I want to say is that when you are feeling down (not depressed, mind) you are just forced to make sense of what is going on. Truth is, I could not separate my sadness at losing my dog, my friend, with a more generalized sadness at the prospect of growing old.

This year will mark my seventieth birthday (how on earth did that happen?) and as I come to terms with the fact that the wrinkles can no longer be disguised, I find myself taking more and more consolation in ideas. Or, if you like, in what might be called the life of the spirit. There is so much still to learn. But the word ‘discover’ doesn’t just imply learning from books – although books are my delight. On April 26th, recovering from two infections, I posted the following words on Facebook:

“Lying on the window seat. The last of the sun has nearly gone, or so it seems, but I know it is there still, lining those violet clouds with brightness. I’m listening to one of my favourite works: Haydn’s Seven Last Words. Outside I see the new, tense green of the Tulip tree. A statue of Kwan Yin. The intensity of scarlet tulips, blue forget-me-nots, white narcissi. A pheasant strutting in his finery. And the luminous blue beyond those bruised clouds reminding me of the grace and the glory that costs nothing and is worth everything.”

Honestly, I could step towards the final education of death at moments like that – wondering if it will indeed be ‘final’…