In my humble opinion, Chloe Hooper is one of Australia’s most sublime writers: evocative, in control, and always true to her story. “Bedtime Story” transcends the genre of grief/loss/illness memoir with an ease that stuns. When the author and her husband, famed (and equally brilliant) writer Don Watson discover he has a rare and potentially fast-ravaging leukemia, the mantle of illness and foreboding descends upon her family of four, in particular her two young boys (they must be aged about three and seven). Achingly addressing this slim volume to the “you” of the older boy, the author grapples with the question of how to explain the threat of imminent death. As befits a scrupulous investigative journalist, she turns to the world of children’s literature: can it assist her and her husband, can it ease, can prepare the young for a new future? As her husband embarks on the by-now-ubiquitous debilitating journey of aggressive treatment, as the boys increasingly sense the pall in their worlds, she gropes toward explanation and myth-making.
Interweaving investigations into the world of kids’ books, an acerbic account of the world of scans, hospital, and drugs, and young souls’ responses, Bedtime Story is both achingly sad and, somehow, extraordinarily, liberating. Injected personal poems made me gasp. Ghostly watercolors by Anna Walker are perfectly placed.
My book of the year so far, Bedtime Story startled me and then graced my own inner turmoil with rare, precise insight and beauty.