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Can literature teach us how to grieve? – Audio Long Reads

After the death of her mother, Johanna Thomas-Corr searches for a language of mourning.

By Johanna Thomas-Corr and Emma Haslett

When her mother died Johanna Thomas-Corr, the literary editor of the Sunday Times, fretted that she was misremembering her somehow. “I kept reaching for my own figures of speech, only for them to writhe out of my hands,” she writes. “Writing about her was easy: she was so distinctive. But writing about my relationship with her – this was a slippery business.”

In this essay, struggling to find a language for her loss, Thomas-Corr turns to literature for answers. She draws on a rich tradition of writing about grief – from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes on Grief (2021), Ian McEwan’s novel Lessons (2022), to Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living (2018). 

Through their pages, she explores our inevitable entanglements with our mothers and grief in all its phases – the anticipatory, the humorous and the weird. “I have come to like images of myself, simply because they remind me of her,” she writes. “I used to be so self-conscious… but I rather like the fact I now look a bit like my mother did. I find I am not fighting it.”

Written by Johanna Thomas-Corr and read by Emma Haslett.

This article was originally published in the 25 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman; you can read the text version here.

If you enjoyed this episode of the audio long read, you might enjoy listening to How does a music writer grieve? With playlists, of course.

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