Dear Death

Written by Michael Thorpe for World Literature Today on

Dear Death is a thematically directed narrative about growing up in an Indian community in Guyana. As the title suggests, death is the touchstone of the development of the hero, Dalip. This process is to be understood, a short prologue and epilogue urge, as essential to realising oneself as a soul, perhaps the vehicle of many forgotten incarnations. Dalip is early confronted with the mystery of physical separation when his mother commits what remains an unexplained suicide: their deep affectionate attachment is the novel’s one complex relationship, and her untimely death inhibits the boy’s spiritual growth. The endless funeral ceremonies and diversions hardly impinge, and the father plunges into dissipation: ‘It did not seem to Dalip that there had been a death.’ The slow seepage into consciousness of Dalip’s delayed reactions, his belated weeping, and the growth of an inward dedication of his efforts at school to his dead mother are both psychologically convincing and Dear Death’s most fully realized aspect.

Dalip grows up rapidly in the short novel’s span, and his other major relationships - with the brother who supports him through school, the seemingly indifferent father whose hidden love finally comes to compensate for the loss of the mother, and a nurse, his first love - are little more than sketched. The reader is far less engaged than the explanatory narrator, so that the elder brother’s culminating death, which Dalip struggles between accepting in the philosophical spirit of the Gita as ‘inevitable’ and feeling in the spirit of his sixth-form text, Sons and Lovers, seems almost gratuitous, to round off a theme that has been insistent throughout. Although the novella suffers from constricted development of its concerns, it shows an insight and sensitivity inadequately served by a form its author has yet to master.