Richard and Judy Review: The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Richard and Judy Review: The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink

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"This all sounds like a very grim read – but it’s truly not. The book is full of warmth and affection and is ultimately uplifting as well as undeniably heart-breaking."

Richard’s review

It’s estimated that about 6,000 people in the UK exist in a permanent vegetative state. Their families live in limbo, the loved one technically alive but with a brain that has been destroyed. Rentzenbrink reflects that she and her family ‘all felt too responsible. Too much like “it” (letting Matty die) was us giving up. I had started to feel like a murderer.’

Like the parents of Tony Bland, the boy horrifically injured at Hillsborough, Matty’s family eventually had to apply to the courts for permission to withdraw his nutrition. Permission was granted and Matty’s family was finally allowed to let him go in peace.

This all sounds like a very grim read – but it’s truly not. The book is full of warmth and affection and is ultimately uplifting as well as undeniably heart-breaking. Rentzenbrink writes with great skill about how hard she found it to talk about what was happening. While she is ‘splintering into bits’ the world, of course, goes on.

She writes about how she developed a deliberate cover, becoming ‘cheerful, even boisterous’. The family lived in a pub filled with jovial and sometimes drunk customers. A man tells her, unknowingly, to ‘cheer up love, it might never happen’.

I think this is a book that would make you feel better if you’re going through a tough time. It’s about loss, yes, but also about family and love and growing up and finding happiness again, which Cathy does.

One reviewer writes that the book itself ‘feels like an act of love’.

It certainly does.

"This is an extraordinary book, full of love and grief, but somehow Rentzenbrink’s writing makes it easy to read despite the sadness of the subject."

Judy’s review

This book is a beautifully-written and haunting memoir. It tells the true story of the writer, Cathy, and her beloved younger brother, Matty, who was horribly injured in a car accident just two weeks before his brilliant GCSE results – the best in his school – were sent to his devastated family.

Cathy and Matty were very close and affectionate siblings. Then one night, Matty is knocked down by a car. Cathy prays for him to live, then later realises she was ‘praying for the wrong thing’. Because he did live, for eight long years, but in a persistent vegetative state (‘vegetative was the key word, but a horrible word’).

This is a painful book to read, but it’s also told with great gentleness and even humour. Although the comatose Matty is present on every page, the memoir charts Cathy’s own feelings: the endless false hope, the helplessness at the fact that all the love in the world cannot make her brother well again.

Cathy’s parents ran a pub in Yorkshire. The contrast between the normal warmth and jollity in the bar and the bleakness of the family’s emotions as they watch over Matty is beautifully drawn. Later in the book Cathy sees a therapist and begins to understand that her problem, her depression, is not rooted in grief, but in guilt – that she actually wanted her brother to die.

This is an extraordinary book, full of love and grief, but somehow Rentzenbrink’s writing makes it easy to read despite the sadness of the subject. I loved it and warmly recommend it.

Press reviews

Here are a selection of the reviews for The Last Act of Love

"Extraordinary…An honest, heartbreaking, uplifting account of family tragedy. Read it"

JoJo Moyes, author of Me Before You

"Beautiful, devastating and ultimately uplifting; intimate and universal all at once"

Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist

"This is a brilliant book. Harrowing and heartbreaking, warm and human and healing"

Matt Haig, author of Reasons to Stay Alive

3 thoughts on “Richard and Judy Review: The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink

  1. I picked this book by sheer coincidence ahead of a relaxing spa weekend with my daughter. I soon realised I was reading a book I could have written myself. You see, on 16th of January 1997 my younger Brother, Colin aged 17 was knocked down by a car. He sustained fatal head injuries and our life was and is turned upside down. He shared a further week with him present in our lives but on 22nd January his life support machine was turned off and an hour later, he took his last breath and passed away. Every moment in this book felt like I was reliving it all over again. Some details were different but the pain it relit and the feelings it brought back lead me to write this. I was really hoping to be able to contact Cathy, maybe email or write a letter to somehow feel less alone. I’m aware there are many families that go through this but when it’s you you don’t believe it.
    Please respond or let me know if I can contact her in any way
    A very touched and emotional, Karen.

    1. Hi Karen,

      We’re very sorry to hear of your loss, and hope Cathy’s book brought you some comfort in knowing that there are others experiencing similar feelings to yourself.

      If you would like to get in touch with Cathy then we would recommend visiting her blog, where there is a contact page you can leave a message on – https://cathyreadsbooks.wordpress.com/contact-me/

      All the best,

      WHS Blog

  2. i found this book so moving, and honest. The emotional ups and downs over all those years. Personally it bought back so many memories of my younger sister Vicki who died from a very aggressive form of multiple sclerosis just seven years after being diagnosed. But again i must agree with Judy there is so much to enjoy within the book, never apologise for being human and loving others.

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