When You Read This by Mary Adkins – review

Published by Hodder and Stoughton

Publication date – 7 February 2019

Source – free review copy

Iris Massey is gone.
But she’s left something behind.

For four years, Iris Massey worked side by side with PR maven Smith Simonyi, helping clients perfect their brands. But Iris has died, taken by terminal illness at only thirty-three. Adrift without his friend and colleague, Smith is surprised to discover that in her last six months, Iris created a blog filled with sharp and often funny musings on the end of a life not quite fulfilled. She also made one final request: for Smith to get her posts published as a book. With the help of his charmingly eager, if overbearingly forthright, new intern Carl, Smith tackles the task of fulfilling Iris’s last wish.

Before he can do so, though, he must get the approval of Iris’s big sister Jade, an haute cuisine chef who’s been knocked sideways by her loss. Each carrying their own baggage, Smith and Jade end up on a collision course with their own unresolved pasts and with each other.

Iris has died. Aged 33, she found she had lung cancer and was given only months to live. During her last few months she writes a blog about dying. Her final wishes are that her boss, PR executive Smith, publish the blog. First though Smith has to persuade Iris’ sister Jade.

I’ll admit at first I wasn’t sure what to make of the book. I found it strange and I wasn’t sure if I was actually enjoying it. It’s full of graphs and dots and Venn diagrams. The rest is written in the form of blog posts, emails, texts and letters to what appears to be a remote therapist. But it grew on me, and the form in which it was written made it easy to fly through the book.

There is a surreal quality to the book, lent in part by the modern-day epistolary nature. However, I think the writing style would still have given that surreal feeling if the book had been written in a more standard narrative style.

Iris almost blends into the background as the relationship between Jade and Smith develops. She is however, the star around which they orbit, drawn together by the loss of her. I enjoyed the latter half of the book more as we see the burgeoning relationship between Jade and Smith develop. There is also a lot of self-development as Jade and Smith look to themselves to see why their lives have turned out as they have.

There are some comedy moments. Carl for example, Smith’s intern, is probably one of the most egotistical and useless interns there has ever been. There are of course the inevitable sad moments, given this is a book revolving around grief and how it manifests. Iris’ blog posts are moving, the one that is the most effecting being the last blog post, right at the end of the book. There is also sadness from some of the comments to her blog posts, almost cruel in their nature, showing people still focussed on themselves when others are literally dying around them.

Whilst about grief in its many manifestations this is in essence a love story. It is about the love between siblings, of parental love in whatever form that takes, of romantic love and how some can only show love in toxic ways.

About the author

Mary Adkins is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and the Atlantic. A native of the American South and a graduate of Duke University and Yale Law School, she lives in New York City with her family. She also teaches storytelling for The Moth.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jules_Writes says:

    Great review, sounds like an interesting format for a novel.


    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks. It is a different way of writing and I think it does end up working for this book.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I quite like the sound of this although I think the various different formats of the story would take some adjusting to. I’ll give it a try though, as you thought it worked well!


    1. janetemson says:

      I hope you like it if you read it. It did take me some getting used to. If you’d like my copy let me know 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.