Oh dear, another book that I really hoped to rate with five stars but couldn’t! A friend lent me the paperback and although it was published in 2011, I hadn’t got round to reading it until this last weekend. So – it isn’t a new book, although new to me. I don’t read many biographies but I was interested in this one especially because of the apparent subject matter – dementia. That sounds grim – and some of it undoubtedly is – but it is “billed” as a love story of loss.
It is a moving and heart-rending account of John Suchet’s second marriage, to Bonnie, and his new role as carer as she declines into dementia. I found it an interesting story, especially having nursed my husband’s mother who came to live with us when she was diagnosed with dementia, and I found that the symptoms and effects John Suchet describes were so recognisable to me.
However, although I felt great sympathy with John struggling with the loss of his beloved wife, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for his first wife and three children whom he left for Bonnie (as she also left her husband and two children, so two families with five children were damaged by it) and for whom he seems to have nothing but unkind words. Why, after so long, did he still find it necessary to do this – and so publically? After all, his first wife would have had no right of reply. I find it odd that he blames her for their divorce (although he was in love with another woman even whilst three sons were born to the marriage) and even for his estrangement from his parents, although he was a grown man, surely able to make his own decisions.
I found the whole of this back-story so irritating that I wish he had omitted the first four (or so) chapters entirely. I guess he thought he was being “honest” but, and I feel so sorry to have to say this, it came across as self-centred and not very nice. Bonnie is also constantly referred to as a beautiful blonde American, but there is little about her interests (apart from those that coincide with John’s) or activities (again, apart from those that coincide with John’s) and only a bit about her work (temp-ing is mentioned and latterly a job as PA to an American billionaire who appears to have employed her mainly, according to John’s account, because she, like him, went to Cornell).I really wanted to see Bonnie as an independent personality, but only see her as an acquiescent agreeable (and agreeing) wife. I’m sure that she was a lovely person but her individual character did not come through to me; it seemed more about John than Bonnie. Of course, I’m aware that the main thrust was about John’s perspective in watching Bonnie’s decline and becoming her carer, but even so, it felt like an auto-biography about his career, of which the marriage was a part. Perhaps it is significant that the paperback edition has a photograph of John on the front, not Bonnie (Ok this is probably his publisher’s selling technique) although I believe that other editions have a picture of both of them.
I have long listened to John Suchet on Classic FM and enjoyed his work there and on Beethoven, and I remembered him as a newscaster on ITN, so this new knowledge is rather sad. I really wanted to feel only sympathy for him in his loss, but felt that the gloss was somewhat dulled. I guess that’s just about being human but I found it a little depressing. However, as an awareness-raising story of dementia and what it means to the carers, and as a story of deep (if seemingly obsessive) love, it was heartbreakingly poignant, and did, in fact, reduce me to tears.