Definitely Fine by Amy Lavelle: An emotional rollercoaster ride - book review -

What are you supposed to do when it feels like your world has just disintegrated?

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 3:45 pm
Definitely Fine by Amy Lavelle

Twenty-eight-year-old Hannah Kennedy used to call her mum for answers to her questions but the whole reason her life is now falling apart is because her beloved mother has suddenly died.

Coping with death and grief is one of humanity’s greatest challenges but it’s a task that debut author Amy Lavelle tackles with honesty, authenticity, understanding and humour in her exceptionally clever and funny coming-of-age novel.

Prepare to laugh and cry your way through the pages of Definitely Fine as Lavelle – whose own mother’s death has endowed her with extraordinary insight and empathy – takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster ride through disbelief, anger, pain and acceptance.

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Hannah Kennedy is twenty-eight and living with her boyfriend Ollie in her home city of Brighton when the worst happens. Her mum, Jennifer, was enjoying a run with Hannah’s younger sister Laura when she fell and banged her head on a wall.

At first, it didn’t seem serious but now Jennifer is in an induced coma in hospital with a massive brain bleed and the doctors want to turn off her life support machine because they know that she will never wake up again.

Hannah’s first instinct when she heard the news was to ring her mum because Jennifer has always been the ‘focal point’ of their lives, the person who pulled them all together. So how are Hannah, chaotic Laura and their emotionally repressed dad Patrick going to function in a world where Jennifer doesn’t exist?

Staying strong and keeping positive are supposed to be the ‘emotional taxes on firstborns’ but coming to terms with the fact that she is now the ‘Woman of the Family’ isn’t going to be easy for Hannah.

As the weeks pass by and important – but now painfully emotive – landmarks like Mother’s Day, birthdays and Christmas loom large, Hannah must work her way through the crucial life lessons which her mother never taught her.

Who would have thought she would need to know how to ride a tandem, how to react when your dad starts making lasagne for an unknown woman, how to broker peace between feuding aunts, and how to know if you really want a baby or if this is just the grief talking?

But what Hannah really wishes her mother had taught her is how you are meant to find yourself when you've just lost the person who made sense of everything?

The genius of Definitely Fine lies in Lavelle’s ability to capture both the anguish and the unexpectedly farcical moments that can arise from a family’s struggle to deal with a sudden death and its aftermath. The result is a story so perfectly pitched that you will be laughing behind the hand that only seconds ago wiped away a surreptitious tear… and that is a rare achievement for any writer.

Indeed, the raw, emotional truths of losing a loved one are writ large in this entertaining and ultimately uplifting story which views the life of a twenty-something through the prism of loss, and explores the different ways we react to a terrible event and how it impacts on both our actions and outlook.

For Hannah, her mother’s death is a steep learning curve… the beginning of the end of merely muddling through adulthood, and the start of trying to find herself, to make her own decisions and to control her own life.

With her family also flailing, and desperate to find firm ground again, their combined grief manifests itself in shared tears, misunderstandings and occasional absurdities, all of which only serve to render them movingly and authentically human.

This is essentially a warm, wise and witty tale of recovery in which the likeable Hannah attempts to rectify the lack of a ‘how-to guide to grief.’ But maybe by penning this endearing journey of self-discovery, the author might just have created her own unique version of a bereavement manual.

(Orion, paperback, £8.99)