Thaw by Fiona Robyn

Book Review
Title: Thaw
Author: Fiona Robyn
Publisher: Snowbooks
Released: 2009
Pages: 350
ISBN-10: 1906727090
ISBN-13: 978-1906727093
Stars: 5.0

British author Fiona Robyn has written a visceral, poignant, and often agonizing story of a young woman named Ruth White who at 32-years-of-age doesn’t know whether she wants to be 33. Her small life is unfulfilling, seemingly void of love or meaning, and the death of her mother when she was a young girl haunts her still.

Her relationships are strained and awkward and her self-esteem is almost non-existent, even though she is well-educated and works as a microbiologist. Ruth is very good about saving her money and compulsive about keeping a tidy flat, in which she harbors her deep, dark secrets. Ruth has decided to give herself three months in which to make up her mind about whether she will commit suicide. In her daily diary entries we unravel the mystery of her past, bear witness to her present, and ultimately root for her future.

Robyn shares Ruth’s tale in a first person narrative of magnificent prose. In a very clever form of self-marketing, she created a blog for the book that was launched on March 1, 2010 and posted an entry every day for 3 months. She also used Facebook to spread the word and created a remarkable reading event for those of us willing to take the ride with her. She is an excellent, courageous writer who has created one of the most honest and truthful characters I have ever come across. I care about Ruth more than I’ve cared for any fictional character in a very long time. She is embedded in my consciousness. Fiona Robyn has written something painfully beautiful.

She has also written about depression with much clarity and compassion. I fell in love with Ruth and found myself hoping for her happiness and wanting her relationship with Red, the Russian artist who paints her portrait, to blossom into a love she could find redemption within.

In Thaw we meet Ruth’s father and his second wife, Julie, her aunt Abbie, her equally depressed co-worker Mary, and her friends Zoë and Sara and each character is written with subtle nuance.

I spoke to Dad today. I thought I ought to call him to keep things moving after seeing him last week. It was a difficult conversation. At least before, I was able to talk to him about surface things and he’d let me… Now he keeps asking me silly questions like, ‘How do you really feel about Julie?’ or, ‘Tell me the truth about what it’s like to work at the hospital.’ I kept taking the conversation back to where it should have been. Then out of the blue, he said that I should look after my own money if I want to. I said, ‘No, I want you to,’ and he said, ‘Really? You’re sure?’ with a warm glow in his voice. I did want to look after it myself. But it was an important transaction between us, that he did it and that I was grateful. Like when a friend is known for making good soup, and everyone always says, ‘Good old Pete and his amazing soup.’ And the soup is good but not really amazing. But Pete likes to mention it himself every so often, and his friends really do care about him, soup or no soup, so the soup becomes the symbol. There’s a place for that. We don’t have to tell the truth all of the time.

I knew someone who committed suicide and I know the pain that her decision caused for her loved ones. She hung herself and left a note. She’d done all the research so she would know how to do it effectively and on the last few days of her life seemed to be more calm and happy than she had been for a long time. She’d already made peace with her decision and she knew she wouldn’t have to endure the pain anymore.

It really does take more courage to live than it does to die. If Ruth goes through with it, I’m going to be heartbroken, I must say. But then again, this is a heartbreaking story. I’ve never witnessed pain being written about in such an exquisite way.

There are only a couple of journal entries left on Fiona’s/Ruth’s blog and I don’t know how it’s going to end yet but I decided to post my review now anyway. I’m praying for a happy ending even though that I know that in real life, things don’t always turn out that way.

Fiona Robyn has a fan in me, for life.

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