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