Views & Reviews Review of the Week

What becomes of the broken hearted?

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 14 February 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:391
  1. John Quin, consultant physician, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton
  1. John.Quin{at}

    Is writing about unhappiness some way to diminish it? John Quin is moved by a doctor’s tale of bereavement

    It was the Vichy collaborationist Henry de Montherlant who wrote “happiness writes white,” but what did he know, the old sourpuss? We should understand that he wasn’t exactly the cheeriest of souls, given his over-determined suicide by simultaneously taking cyanide and shooting himself. Doctor and author Dannie Abse, one suspects, would take issue with the cynical Frenchman’s maxim. The Welshman’s uxorious poems on life with Joan, his beloved wife of 50 years, are a testament to the fact that one can write, and write well about joy. Abse’s works detail his obvious sublime happiness in marriage, where even after some forgotten row there was still “the sweet armistice of the double bed.” In June of 2005, however, Joan was killed in a car crash; The Presence is Abse’s response to this appalling trauma.

    The book takes the form of a journal interrupted by reminiscence and poems by Abse and others …

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