Review: The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

by Paridhi Rustogi on October 28, 2013

Author: Alice Sebold
Publisher: Hatchette Group
Year: 2007
ISBN: 9780316067362
Rating: ★★★½☆
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A novel about a middle-aged woman who murders her mother, an 88-year-old woman suffering from mental illness, this novel by Alice Sebold traces tough themes that we often ignore. A thought-provoking read by the author of The Lovely Bones.

Alice Sebold’s second novel was the much acclaimed bestseller, ‘The Lovely Bones’, which was made into an equally acclaimed movie. Her next work, The Almost Moon, grips you from the very first sentence. “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily”. What follows in the next twenty four hours is a harrowing experience in the shoes of a dutiful daughter, Helen Knightly, whose mother had been suffocating her until Helen could take no more, and retaliates by killing her.

There are many instances when one feels that one’s parents are hindering one’s lifestyle. Yet, few of us ever imagine weeding them out of our lives ourselves (and so brutally!). It is this unimaginable scenario that makes this book engaging; the quest to understand the suffering that leads to such an eventuality.

It is an intricate novel which questions the validity of human relationships and hopes to make sense of dementia; a difficult illness for those who have to deal with it, whether firsthand or secondhand. The characters are deeply layered, and flawed, like all humans. Despite the severity of their actions, the humanity is hard to miss.

The author paints a portrait of anguish, one that makes the pain of all the characters involved evident. I could relate to the burden that Helen must carry, having to tend to her senile 88 year old mother, and the helplessness that clouds over her mentally ill mother’s psyche. Her mother has agoraphobia, because of which she finds certain situations, such as being in crowded areas, dangerous and alarming; one can imagine how this restricts Helen’s freedom of movement. Overwhelmed by the hopelessness of her situation, Helen manages to wreck havoc in the lives of her loved ones starting from her ex-husband to her best friend and it seems as though she doesn’t know how to stop.

The Almost Moon’ is not a book for everyone. Bordering on the horrific, it brings up topics that we are conditioned to push under the carpet. Though Helen might come off as entirely unpleasant and weak to some readers, her turmoil is something that surely demands pity and commiseration.

Through the course of the book, Helen discovers the secrets that made her father commit suicide and unearths many childhood memories that she had long ago put to rest. Her memories haunt her; Helen, herself a mother, assumes her flagrant actions will harm her daughters futures and their ability to maintain the bond they once shared with her.

Alice Sebold’s attempt to fragment the human soul and to measure the amount of abuse one can suffer is a poignant work of art which surely has the ability of leaving a mark and ensures that the words once read can never be forgotten.

Other fiction books that deal with mental illness: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

Written by Paridhi Rustogi

Environmental Engineering student. Love words and languages and art. Currently suffering from wanderlust.

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