Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 02/16/20 5:48 AM

Book review: Postscript by Cecilia Ahern

A measured  journey of picking up the pieces and carrying on

Cecilia Ahern debuted with PS I Love You in 2004,  which went on to be No 1 on the bestseller lists in Ireland, the UK and across the pond, in the US too; win awards and get adapted into a movie with Hollywood stars Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler in the lead roles. Fifteen years later, Ahern returns with the sequel Postscript, which revisits the lives of protagonist Holly Kennedy, her family and friends.

In PS I Love You, Holly received letters from her husband after his death; a show- and- tell where the reader discovered what their love was like and accompanied  her on her journey  of experiencing grief and finding closure. Seven years later in Postscript, she records a podcast where she talks about the experience and is approached by the PS I Love You Club — people who suffer from  terminal illnesses and want to leave behind letters for their loved ones but don’t quite know what to say. They are inspired by her story and want the same for themselves. Will Holly help them? Or is she happy enough in her current life (and love) to let the past remain the past?

If you are actually wondering about this, then this is probably the  first time you are reading Ahern.

The book starts off  slowly and calls on the reader to be very invested in Holly’s world and troubles right off the bat, which is difficult unless you are a great fan of the first book or are reading the two back-to-back. We jump into Holly’s podcast and her mixed feelings when talking about her late  husband Gerry. There are a lot of references to her life with Gerry and the current upheaval in talking of him; it is difficult to connect with all of this at first,  if one is reading the book as a stand-alone.

The story settles in after a while, though, and the reader gets sufficiently drawn into Holly’s tangle of emotions and her efforts to find peace and fulfilment. This is helped through the device of several new characters who are preparing their own farewells to their lives and loves. There’s Joy, who knows her husband wouldn’t appreciate a mushy letter and has to find a more prosaic way of saying ‘I love you.’ There’s Paul, leaving behind videos since his children might not want to read letters. There’s Bert, who leads his widow on a treasure hunt of the key moments in their life. Through the exploration of these characters’ desires and actions, there are some very thoughtful observations made about human motivation and the desire to be remembered.

The older characters are  harder to empathise with. They have their stories, are leading full and eventful lives and yet, seem out-of-reach for the reader…the reader who has not read or has forgotten the first book, that is. Then,  Holly’s current love interest is so bland and two-dimensional that he wouldn`t be missed if he wasn`t there at all. He exists only for the purpose of driving the plot for Holly. Should she move in with him? Should she be upset at his priorities? Should she make amends after a fight?

None of the stakes seem very high when it comes to him. The chief love interest remains her late husband Gerry, even as the protagonist tries to convince everyone that she is perfectly happy and barely thinks of him. The book dwells so much on Gerry  that it proves otherwise.

Grief is one of the most strongly- felt and unavoidable of human emotions, and the book delves into it without any hesitation. Yet, it can’t go too deep, not without alienating the reader who enjoys a light read.

And so there is enough of the mundane life of the people left behind, enough affirmation of life, enough humour peppered throughout, to keep the reader smiling and hopeful for the lives of the characters, even while feeling sad for the certainty of  death. For every loss, there is a bereaved family member’s joy at receiving a heartfelt, well thought-out farewell gift, there is the message of hope and happiness that lies ahead.

However, there are a lot of heavy-handed observations that work hard to sound  profound. And there are some laughably convenient solutions to problems that are far stickier and unsolvable in real life.

Then again, where else but in books and movies like these does one find these solutions? Messier endings belong in a different genre altogether.

Ahern’s voice is a sure and confident one, knowing exactly what she wants to say and saying it very well. While the story itself meanders, the book’s strength lies in the insights on grief and moving on. And of course, in its protagonist’s happily-ever-after.


By Cecilia Ahern


357 pages

Rs 399/-

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 16 Feb 2020.

book reviewCecilia AhernfictionPostscriptsequel to PS I Love You

Sheila Kumar • February 16, 2020

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