Title: Untying the Knot
Author: Linda Gillard
Genre: contemporary fiction
Untying the Knot is another deeply moving and skilfully executed novel by Linda Gillard. I am totally in awe of this author. Once again, she had me committed to her characters and caught up in their lives from the first few pages, then weeping for joy at the end.
Essentially, this novel is about the hidden cost of war. During a war soldiers are in the public eye and in our thoughts, but afterwards, most of us think no more about those who returned and if we do, we probably consider them the lucky ones. This book rouses your empathy for those men who fought and returned, wounded not only in body, but also in spirit. Doctors can put their bodies back together relatively easily these days, but the psychological scars can continue for the rest of the men’s lives. More soldiers committed suicide after than Falklands war than died during it, and Magnus, the psychologically damaged war hero in this story, has considered it.
The scene where he tells his estranged wife, Fay, why he decided against suicide is one of the best pieces of writing I have ever read.
Being an army wife facing long periods without your husband and never knowing if he will come back is hard enough, but Magnus’s post traumatic stress disorder has had devastating effects on his family, leading to his wife’s breakdown and their divorce. The story is set around the events leading up to, during and directly after a party in honour of the estranged couple’s daughter’s engagement. The background events are revealed in flashbacks and memories as the present day story unfolds, and the further we get into the story, the deeper and more powerful the recollections of the past become. Near the end, through Gillard’s skilful writing, we experience Magnus’s torment as if we were him. My desire to take this damaged man and care for him became incredibly strong, yet all romantic notions of love conquering all were cut through with the starkly illuminated reality of the stresses of life as a carer of someone with his condition.
Sometimes, as Fay says, love just isn’t enough. However, there is something incredibly inspiring about a love that doesn’t die despite all the odds, and a man that is stubborn enough to never give it up, even when it has apparently long since flown. Magnus is that man, and no matter how close to madness he is, he is always the hero. His nobility shines through his actions and most particularly in the exquisite words of the letter to Fay, that he carried close to his heart in a waterproof bag at all times, a letter that was to be delivered to her on the occasion of his death. The scene where he reads it to her is another piece of incredibly moving writing.
Books that we call literature—and without a doubt, this book deserves that label—apart from being beautifully written, illuminate our lives in some way, and this one made me realise that love is sometimes right there in front of us, solid and dependable, but hidden beneath our belief that it’s gone. All we have to do is look without the baggage that caused us to believe it gone in the first place.
Everyone should read this book.