Every once in a while, I come across an author whose work speaks to me in ways that few others have or do. It’s as if they have read my mind and are sharing my thoughts but with an eloquence I do not possess. I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience, if not with literature, perhaps with a song.
Recently, while I was researching the decline of the postmodernism age for my American Literature course, I came across an article titled “Postmodernism is Dead,” by Edward Docx, an English essayist, novelist, and journalist, whose earlier novel Pravda was longlisted for the prestigious Man-Booker Prize. Docx’s insight, erudition, and intellectualism blew me away along with his ability to render complex notions comprehensible.
I was so impressed and inspired by the essay that I immediately ordered his most recent novel, Let Go My Hand. The subsequent binge reading of which has been one of the most rewarding and personal ethos-affirming experiences in my lifetime. One reviewer, Ian Kelly, described the novel in this way: “If art is the holding in balance of the powers of love, sex and death, then this is a truly supreme work of art.” I think that is an accurate encapsulation of what all great art does.
Reduced to its simplest summation, Let Go My Hand is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Instead of three daughters, however, the father, who, like Lear, is not long for this world, has three sons, who are accompanying him to Switzerland, where assisted death is legal.
Rather than provide my own inadequate summary, I’ve included a link below to Docx’s web page for a brief summary of the novel.
The most simple explanation for my newfound affinity for Docx’s prose is that he “gets me” as an individual in the same way Shakespeare understood humanity as a whole. In the novel, Docx also identifies John Steinbeck – another of my favorite authors – as perhaps the only other author with a similar comprehension of the experience of being human.
I originally intended to include a bulleted list of passages from the novel that I found to be true, meaningful, and affirming to my own life’s journey and to share a few of the conclusions/lessons I’ve arrived at along the way that are mirrored in Let Go My Hand but better expressed than I could ever paraphrase. However, that list grew far too long.
Instead, I’ve chosen a single excerpt taken from the father’s final words of advice to his sons, delivered much in a similar manner as Polonius delivered his famous words of wisdom to his son, Laertes, in Hamlet:
Far be it from me to tell anyone how to live their life, but sage advice is to be found in these words. There’s a George Strait song in which he sings, “There’s a difference between living and living well.” I think the preceding quotation from Let Go My Hand, lucidly distinguishes that difference.
I want more than anything to “put soul into [my] life.” I want to share “my deeper feelings, thoughts, and desires” and be privy to those of others. I want to “feel and enquire.” I want to be aware of “nature’s great beauty and humanity’s great genius.” I want to “treasure [my] friends,” “read as much as [I] can,” and make “the braver choice.”
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